World Gone Wrong (1993)
When As Good As I Been To You came out, Columbia not only gave Dylan credit for all of the arrangements, they even gave him credit for writing many of the songs. Leave it to a bunch of label hacks to screw that up. There was a bit of an outcry among folk scholars that Dylan was attempting to make money off arrangements he’d stolen from artists who had been recording in the 20s and 30s. When he put out this sequel of sorts, which I feel features inferior guitar playing to the preceding album and some songs that are better and some that are worse, he decided to cover his tracks by writing his own liner notes. These are what truly give this album the edge. They are inscrutable and entertaining, all at the same time.
As for the songs, there are many stron ones here. Standouts for me include “Jackaroe,” a more feminist version of the themes on “Canadee-I-O” (but not a retelling). In this song, the woman has more agency. In “Canadee-I-O” she wants to go to sea with her man – a military operation but not necessarily a battle. She pays her man to help her sneak into the hold and dress as a sailor. In “Jackaroe,” the man is far away and the woman dresses as a man and successfully enlists. At the end, the protagonist of “Canadee-I-O” is betrayed by her lover, but takes up with the ship’s captain, who stands up for her. After taking up with him, she sublimates her personality and becomes a trophy wife; in “Jackaroe,” the protagonist finds her disenfranchised soldier dying on the battlefield and nurses him back to health, and he loves her because of her courageousness, not in spite of it. “Stackalee” is flooring in its power, and “Delia” is flooring in its quietude – very different than say Cash’s “Delia’s Gone,” Dylan’s “Delia” nonetheless has more pathos than any other take on “Delia” I know. He says it is “two or more versions mixed into one,” but what makes it so unique is the point of view. The story is about a 14-year old girl who gets shot down by her gangster boyfriend. Dylan sings it from the point of view of the quiet boy who had a crush on her – “she loved all them rounders, but never had time for me.” “Two Soldiers,” recounting promises that can’t be kept, is a little-known tragic gem.
Best song: Stack-A-Lee – Great rendition of the murder ballad with the double moral of don’t mess with another man’s hat, and if someone does mess with your hat, don’t be a jerk wad about it.
Worst song: Ragged and Dirty – Good performance of a great song, which shows that the album is probably pretty good overall.
Outtake: Mary and the Soldier – This is a piece with “Jack-A-Roe” and “Canadee-I-O.” The daughter of a rich military commander, Mary falls in love with a soldier her father trains and plans to follow him into battle. Her father, knowing where he will send the soldier, forbids it, and so does the soldier until he is enamored by her determination.
Live rendition: Delia – Dylan has always had periods where he’ll include several old folk songs in his set, and he did a beautiful version of this song in England in 2000.
Five best quotes from the liner notes: “an infantile sensualist – white teeth, wide smile, lotza money, kowtows to fairy queen exploiters & corrupt religious establishments, career minded, limousine double parked, imposing his will & dishonest garbage in popular magazines” (on “Love Henry”); “futurologists would insist it’s a matter of taste. They say ‘let’s sleep on it’ but they’re already living in the sanitarium;” “give me a thousand acres of tractable land & all the gang members that exist & you’ll see the Authentic alternative lifestyle, the Agrarian one” (on “Stack-A-Lee”); “evil charlatans masquerading in pullover vests & tuxedos talking gobbledygook, monstrous pompous superficial pageantry parading down lonely streets on limited access highways;” (on “World Gone Wrong”); “America when Mother was the queen of Her heart, before Charlie Chaplin, before the Wild One, before the Children of the Sun – before the celestial grunge, before the insane world of entertainment exploded in our faces – before all the ancient & honorable artillery had been taken out of the city, learning to go forward by turning back the clock” (on “Two Soldiers”)