Guitar Aficionado

Ranking Bob Dylan's 33 Studio Albums: No. 29 — 'Empire Burlesque'

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By Bill Spurge

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A year ago, I decided to complete my collection of Bob Dylan albums. I was a few albums and some odds and ends short, but I purchased most and swapped items with a co-worker and fellow Dylan fanatic.

Then, in honor of the 50th anniversary of his first album, 1962’s Bob Dylan, I set out to rank every Dylan album and song. A monumental task, indeed. I listened to album after album, four or five times through. Even albums I knew in my sleep were placed under scrutiny. Then came the hardest part: making the list. The albums came easier. The songs, not so easy.

My song list is coming soon. In the meantime, here's my album-by-album ranking of Dylan's 33 studio albums (NOTE: Dylan has actually released 34 studio albums, but I've chosen not to include 2009's Christmas In the Heart. I have to have some ground rules.)

These 33 album-ranking stories will take us right up to the release of Tempest, Dylan's new album, which is scheduled to come out September 11. Enjoy!

No. 29 of 33: Empire Burlesque (1985)

Here's another example of Dylan imitating the '80s during the '80s. "When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky" sounds so '80s in its overall sound -- sort of like an '80s-type dance track. It just can't help recalling negative images of that era's synthesized format.

A number of songs are simply average to below-average rockers. Dylan decided to produce this album himself, and I've heard that Ron Wood of The Rolling Stones, who played on this album, was amazed at how Dylan let other studio visitors influence what was done with the tracks.

There are two tracks that make this album a bit more listenable for me: "Tight Connection To My Heart" (the opener) and "I'll Remember You," the only song on the album that Dylan often plays live.

I lifted this interesting tidbit:

"I’ll go along with the charade / Until I can think my way out" (from "Tight Connection To My Heart"). These words comes verbatim from a Star Trek episode called The Squire of Gothos. However, this line originally appeared in the Humphrey Bogart film Sahara. (I haven't listened closely enough to all the album's lyrics, but there are supposedly several references to Bogart lines in the songs.)

"I'll Remember You" is very pretty, and I like it a lot. I believe "Something's Burning Baby" features Tom Petty -- and it's a decent rocker. I'm not a fan of "Clean Cut Kid," which is pretty popular among other fans.

Empire Burlesque keeps us in the below-average area of my overall album rankings, and unlike Slow Train Coming, I'd be surprised if anyone were all too positive about it.

Journalist Bill Spurge of New York City has been a Bob Dylan fan since 1974.