Friday, June 7, 2013

Bob Dylan - Infidels (original mix)

Bob Dylan – Infidels

(original mix by soniclovenoize)

Side A:
1.  Jokerman
2.  Someone’s Got A Hold Of My Heart
3.  Neighborhood Bully
4.  License To Kill
5.  Blind Willie McTell

Side B:
6.  Man of Peace
7.  Foot of Pride
8.  I and I
9.  Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight

Bob Dylan, what the hell were you thinking?  This is what we asked him all through the 1980s.  Coming off a trilogy of non-secular music that is frankly off-putting and of little inventive substance, Bob Dylan returned to the studio in 1983 with Dire Straits mastermind Mark Knopfler as producer to mark Dylan’s comeback album to secular music.   Infidels was intended  as a return to his idiosyncratic poetic acrobatics and interesting song structures with a lean, meat-and-potatoes rock band production (in contrast to his overproduced slew of post-Desire albums)…  Or so we thought. 

What we got instead was stereotype mainstream early 80s mixing and some of Dylan’s best songs of the decade left on the cutting room floor, mostly due to Knopfler’s early exit from the album, leaving Dylan to finish it himself and make rather disastrous creative choices.  Infidels could have been the best album of his post-Desire era and, while admittedly not a masterpiece, could have been on par with his much stronger albums John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline or Desire (or at least certainly superior to New Morning, Planet Waves or Street Legal anyways).   But after all these years, can Infidels be saved?   I believe it can.  This is a reconstruction of the album that Infidels could have been, utilizing alternate “drier” rough mixes and the early tracklist of the album.  And yes, it includes the unreleased full-band version of “Bind Willie McTell” which is a 50% improvement in itself. 

Dylan recorded a bulk of material for his supposed comeback album throughout April and May of 1983, new originals, random covers and aimless jams alike.  At the conclusion of the sessions, Dylan and Knopfler had compiled a rough mix of an album that contained nine songs: “Blind Willie McTell”, “Don’t Fall Apart On Me Tonight”, “Foot of Pride”, “I and I”, “Jokerman”, “Neighborhood Bully”, “License To Kill”, “Man of Peace” and “Sweetheart Like You.”  Knopfler’s story was that he was forced to leave the sessions early because of touring obligations and offered to create a final mix of the album upon his return.  Dylan declined, insisting that his label needed the final mix immediately and he choose to create the final mix himself with the studio’s house engineer.  It was at this point in time that “Foot of Pride” and “Blind Willie McTell”, the later unanimously hailed as one of the best songs of Dylan’s career let alone the decade, was dropped from the album and replaced by inane “Union Sundown”.  Dylan also helped himself to additional now-antiquated production giving the whole album the slick 1980s rock 'gleam' that makes Infidels sound incredibly dated.  He also rerecorded vocals for a number of tracks, specifically giving “Jokerman” a new vocal that sounds as if Dylan is falling asleep at the mic.  Why he did this, no one knows; some believe Dylan made artistic choices that were intentionally counter-intuitive and contrary to his inner circle’s recommendations.  Some believe he's mad.  Either way, that was the Infidels that was released, without Knopfler’s valuable final input. 

The first step in my reconstruction is to fix the dated 80s production and utilize alternate mixes for all of the songs.  We are lucky enough to have excellent quality rough mixes of almost all the serious contenders for the album, taken from the bootleg Outfidel Intakes, which apparently received a recent 24-bit remaster by a fan using CEDAR mastering software (kudos to their fantastic job).  These mixes all lack the overdubs Dylan and Knopfler made, as well as the annoying mixing techniques Dylan oversaw himself in June.  They are all straight-forward basic tracks with a rather drier, grittier and often more upfront vocal track.  While the typical 80s-rock sound is inescapable for Infidels no matter how you cut it (it was recorded with the Dire Straits guitar sound and a reggae rhythm section!), these mixes allow the songs to breathe and is closer to Knopfler’s alleged original intent for the sound of the album. 

Next we sequence the tracks utilizing the stronger songs that were cut from the released version, replacing the weaker ones.  While we don’t have the specific track order, we do know what songs were on the original tracklist.  If we make the assumption that the songs were in the same basic order as on the officially released album, then we are left with the seven Infidels tracks (minus “Union Sundown”) that require “Blind Willie McTell” and “Foot of Pride” to fill in the gaps to make two sides of an LP.  If the fantastic full-band electric version of “Blind Willie McTell” (as opposed to the longer, acoustic version found on The Bootleg Series 1-3) is placed on side A and “Foot of Pride” on side B, we are left with two 23-minute sides.  This must be more than a coincidence!  Thus “Foot of Pride” effectively replaced “Union Sundown” on side B, and the band-take of “Blind Willie McTell” is a powerful closer to side A.  I believe this was Knopfler’s original tracklist. 

One final adjustment made that admittedly was not on Knopfler’s theoretical rough mix is a result of my own creative license, and that is the replacing of the clich├ęd dullard “Sweetheart Like You” with the slightly more interesting fan favorite “Someone’s Got A Hold Of My Heart”, another Why-was-this-left-off-the-album!?-track.  It was not on Knopfler’s rough running order, presumably because Dylan never thought it was finished; the fact that the song was later rewritten several times and completely simplified into Empire Burlesque’s atrocious “Tight Connection To My Heart” seems to validate this assertion.  But I hear nothing wrong with this basic-rock alternate version used here (as opposed to the dismal radio-friendly version found on The Bootleg Series 1-3) but it keeps a better momentum for side A and is a great upgrade to the trite “Sweetheart Like You”, a song that truly deserved to be dropped from the album. 

Is Infidels truly a good Dylan album?  Honestly, we are unsure because its praise is grounded solely in its historical context rather than the quality of the actual material: it’s not a Christian Dylan album and it’s not complete shit.  But my presented original mix reconstruction will hopefully demonstrate that it could have been a highlight of his later career—if you don’t completely loathe 1980s mainstream rock that is, which Infidels certainly is and always be.  But now it can be a bit less of that, for what it’s worth, and we can hear the songs for what they are, rather than just hearing the time that they existed in. 

Sources used:
Bob Dylan – Outfidel Intakes (bootleg)

flac --> wav --> editing in Audacity & Goldwave --> flac encoding via TLH lv8
*md5, artwork and tracknotes included