Knocked Out Loaded (1986)
Empire Burlesque was certainly no winner, but it had its moments; Knocked Out Loaded is Dylan at his absolute worst. Several of the originals are co-written, which isn’t necessarily bad, but two of the three aren’t winners. Dylan doesn’t do much better writing for himself, but it is telling when the second best song on this album is a Kristofferson cover recorded with a children’s choir. Kristofferson is great, but the children’s choir on “They Killed Him,” a song about Ghandi, MLK and Christ, is a bit much. Luckily, it is a short album. It is a mangled affair, pieced together from a variety of sessions with no coherence in who plays on what. It isn’t really produced at all, just cobbled.
Best song: Brownsville Girl – Dylan wrote this with playwright Sam Shepard. It is really a rewrite of “New Danville Girl,” an outtake from Empire Burlesque, and although everything else on Knocked Out Loaded is an utter waste, this song is brilliant. It is definitely among Dylan’s best songs of the 80s, and probably among the best of his whole career. Being a nearly 12-minute song, it has a lot of lines in it, and it probably has as high of a great line to crappy line ratio as anything in the Dylan catalog, including “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).”
Worst song: Driftin’ Too Far from Shore – The background singers can’t even syncopate to be on the same beat as Dylan. He may have been messing them up intentionally because he knew this song was a lost cause. One of many songs recorded for but left off Empire Burlesque, several overdubs were added to this and none of them helped it.