A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.
Two amazing Triple Plus (A+++) sides, huge and solid with tons of weight. Both sides are incredibly clean, clear and lively with lots of space around all of the instruments. Desire spent five weeks at Number One, mostly on the strength of the powerful and provocative “Hurricane.”
As I’m sure you know, Desire is one of those Dylan albums from the ’70s that tends to not get much respect these days, except from the All Music Guide, who gave it 4 1/2 big stars, but it’s actually quite good — musically and sonically — when you can hear it on a quality pressing. This one should do nicely.
It’s probably not fair to lump it in with later ’70s albums like Street Legal (1978) and Slow Train Coming (1979). It is after all the follow-up to the brilliant (and very good sounding) Blood on the Tracks. And it did spend five (5!) weeks at Number One. And Rolling Stone did call it one of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (#174 to be exact).
All of which makes it hard to deny that Desire has a lot going for it.
The album kicks of with the raging Hurricane, one of Dylan’s most passionate political songs, and doesn’t let it up for a good twenty five plus minutes until the side is over. Most copies lacked the energy and presence that this music needs to really come to life, but not this one.
Drop the needle on Hurricane and you will quickly see how much the violin player (Scarlet Rivera) contributes to the song. I can’t think of another hard-rockin’ track from the era that has such a well-recorded violin. If you have an overly smooth copy (there’s tons of ’em out there and we’ve heard many of them) you aren’t going to hear the rosiny texture that gives the instrument its unique character.
One More Cup Of Coffee
Romance In Durango
Black Diamond Bay
If Blood on the Tracks was an unapologetically intimate affair, Desire is unwieldy and messy, the deliberate work of a collective. And while Bob Dylan directly addresses his crumbling relationship with his wife, Sara, on the final track, Desire is hardly as personal as its predecessor, finding Dylan returning to topical songwriting and folk tales for the core of the record.
It’s all over the map, as far as songwriting goes, and so is it musically, capturing Dylan at the beginning of the Rolling Thunder Revue era, which was more notable for its chaos than its music. And so it’s only fitting that Desire fits that description as well, as it careens between surging folk-rock, Mideastern dirges, skipping pop, and epic narratives.
It’s little surprise that Desire doesn’t quite gel, yet it retains its own character — really, there’s no other place where Dylan tried as many different styles, as many weird detours, as he does here. And, there’s something to be said for its rambling, sprawling character, which has a charm of its own. Even so, the record would have been assisted by a more consistent set of songs; there are some masterpieces here, though: “Hurricane” is the best-known, but the effervescent “Mozambique” is Dylan at his breeziest, “Sara” at his most nakedly emotional, and “Isis” is one of his very best songs of the ’70s, a hypnotic, contemporized spin on a classic fable.
This may not add up to a masterpiece, but it does result in one of his most fascinating records of the ’70s and ’80s — more intriguing, lyrically and musically, than most of his latter-day affairs.
Critic Dave Marsh would call it one of the “two best records Dylan has made since John Wesley Harding” and gave it a four-star review in the 1979 Rolling Stone Record Guide. He also mentioned that this album has shown a change in style compared to his other works in the 1970’s by noting: “But love songs aren’t the focus of Desire, which is one of the things that differentiates it from Dylan’s other post-rock work. On the best songs, Dylan returns to the fantastic images, weird characters and absurdist landscapes of the Sixties.”
There was enough critical support to push Desire to #26 on The Village Voice’s Jazz & Pop Critics Poll for 1976. In 2003, the album was ranked number 174 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.