It’s with an ennui-flavored sense of futility that I prepare my end-of-year “Best Of” lists for various publications, because I know when I actually pick up those publications, I’m gonna be seeing some bad caricature of Bob Dylan on the cover, since Love and Theft is going to be named the album of the year.
I mean, how can it not be, given that we critics, collectively, fell all over ourselves a couple of years back to award Dylan top honors for an album that couldn’t possibly have been anywhere near as good as Love and Theft? Or at least that the way it feels here on December 15, having spent the better part of the past three months wading through column after column and article after article of hyperbolic, hyperbaric raves for what Bob’s wrought this year, the best thing since whatever, the most important thing since that other thing, the end all and be all of all ends and bes, world without end, amen, amen.
Most of those articles make some point about how good Bob’s gotten again since his brush with death a few years ago, but I can’t shake this nagging suspicion that the critical accolades that Dylan’s been receiving over the past few years are generated less by his own feelings about his own mortality, but out of our collective critical feelings about Bob’s mortality. His swollen heart sac made us realize that, gosh, he could actually die at some point, and dammit, we’d better hurry up and be nice to him again while we’ve still got him.
It didn’t hurt the hype machines to have Love and Theft hitting the streets on September 11, either, speaking of mortality and a desire to return to a happier, earlier, younger time, and the sounds that marked that time in our hearts. And, sure, it’s easy to love Bob again, and it feels good to do it, and he sure is cute and lovable with that nifty new Vincent Price mustache and everything, but, really, and I do mean really . . . is this album as good as all that we’ve been saying about it?
Was there nothing better, fresher, more innovative, more important, more pleasant, more something this year? And if this exact record was issued by a second or third or seventh or ninth generation Dylan clone, would we like it as much? Nah . . . it’d be a pleasant enough 3.5 star (on a 5 star scale) record, enjoyable, nice enough, well crafted, with moments of magic here and there, but nothing to write home to the folks about, and nothing with which to decorate the cover of a magazine’s year-end issue. Lifetime achivement awards are fine. This is one of them. Let’s be honest about that, okay?