For a long time I thought Bringing it All Back Home was the next album after The Times They Are A-Changin’. I knew the title of Another Side, but I thought it was from somewhere in the uneven early 70s stretch of Dylan output and so avoided it.
When I finally got it sorted out, not only did I repent of my earlier avoidance, it answered many questions I had about classic songs that I knew were from Dylan’s prime but that I couldn’t place on any of the albums I knew about. “My Back Pages” would be chief among these. That song, and this whole album in general, seems like a repudiation of the topical political tone of the album that preceded it: Good and bad, I define these terms/Quite clear, no doubt, somehow./Ah, but I was so much older then,/I'm younger than that now. Dylan isn’t disavowing his positions here, but instead signaling a turn into a realm of inner exploration.
And indeed, political commentary does show up in the songs here, but shot through with humor and satire. In fact, there are three tracks on the album that would qualify for my fantasy “Dylan cracks up” play list, songs in which he can’t quite deliver a line straight and ends up laughing.
Overall, the sense the album conveys is one of restless rambling through his range, from an “I Shall be Free No. 10” that could have fit on Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan to the surreal “Motorpsycho Nitemare” that’s like a preview of the next three albums. Along the way, we get the poetic blues of “Black Crow Blues”, the folk ballad “Ramona”, one of the classic bitter breakup songs (and is he breaking up with just Joan Baez here, or the folk scene in general?) “It Ain’t Me Babe” and one of my all-time favorites, the aching romantic searching of the “Spanish Harlem Incident”: I am homeless, come and take me/Into reach of your rattling drums./Let me know, babe, about my fortune/Down along my restless palms.
It’s almost like Dylan is surveying the ground he built up in his first three albums, and trying to spy the direction for a bold new breakout. Which will bring us to our next review…