Dylanesque is a mess. Nearly every album has a few bright spots, but this is a lazy collection of covers that offers no insight into the catalog of one of the twentieth century’s foremost songwriters. The ex-Roxy Music frontman takes a scattershot approach, resulting in a product that’s only slightly more listenable than Shatner’s spoken-word take on “Mr. Tambourine Man.”
Though Bob Dylan recorded prolifically in many genres, his original recordings were often surpassed in popularity by covers from artists with a finer-tuned pop sensibility. Jimi Hendrix scored early with Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” and lots of guys with mullets would swear that Axl Rose wrote “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” Even Garth Brooks, of all people, turned “Make You Feel My Love” into the kind of song that people buy at the Wal-Mart.
Dylan’s versions are the definitive ones, but the successes of these artists prove that his catalog is not unassailable. But Ferry takes a ball bat to each of those songs and eight others on Dylanesque. Although he recorded this album with his touring band, the musical arrangements sound as if they were put together at one of those organ stores at the mall. Add Ferry’s breathy, monotone vocals and the transformation from folk/rock to elevator/music is complete.
The rest of Dylanesque also fails to offer any revelations. “Positively Fourth Street,” one Dylan’s most bitter tunes, is turned into a piano-inflected mess. Ferry replaces Dylan’s venom and posturing with synthesizers, rendering the song the musical equivalent of creamed corn. “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” and “Baby Let Me Follow You Down” suffer similar fates. The rushed tempos and monotone vocals leave these songs without any hint of the playfulness that made them successful in the first place.
But the most grievous sin Ferry perpetrates on the album is his bouncy take on “Simple Twist of Fate.” The song is consummate Dylan, acid and tender at the same time with images exploding everywhere. A case could be made that this particular piece is best left to the master. Ferry, however, decided that the only thing this song was missing was a little bouncy piano and guitar action. The result is tinny, shrill, and common sounding, and doesn’t make a lot of sense — standing alone or compared to the source material. This can be said for much of Dylanesque. There aren’t many ways to make Dylan’s music unlistenable, but Ferry seems to have found most of them.