Quantcast
"There are a lot of people who aren't served by the music that they hear today, and this is the kind of record that people are
hungry for."
——Columbia Chairman Don Ienner
ON RECORDS: HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED...REVISITED
Dylan Makes the Album of the Moment,
And One for the Ages
By Lenny Beer & Bud Scoppa

There's no question who has the inside track for Album of the Year honors at the 2002 Grammys. That would be 20-year-old neo-soul phenomenon Alicia Keys, whose Songs in A Minor (J Records) came out of nowhere this summer to captivate a nation.

But there are now two shoo-in nominees in this select category. Keys' competition happens to be none other than 60-year-old legend Bob Dylan, who has been making records for twice as long as Keys has been alive. Dylan's warm and rousing Love and Theft (Columbia) not only ranks with the best work of this great artist's career, but is also shaping up to be one of his biggest worldwide commercial successes.

The album, which debuted at #5 in the U.S. on the strength of a 130,000-plus total—career bests on both counts, believe it or not —bowed at #1 in Sweden, Denmark and Norway; #2 in Italy and Austria; #3 in Switzerland and Ireland; #4 in Germany; and #2 in Europe as a whole.

Love and Theft (whose title may have been stolen from a 1993 book on minstrel music) is among the most varied and affable albums of Dylan's long career. Unlike its acclaimed but somber predecessor, 1997's Time Out of Mind (a triple Grammy winner), the new disc has a smile on its face and bounce to its step. Among its dozen newly written originals are howling blues, lilting neo-folk songs, rawboned rockers and gorgeous ballads that wistfully evoke the Tin Pan Alley era. What's most remarkable about Love and Theft, however, isn't its stylistic range, but its instant familiarity—as if these songs have been lodged in America's collective unconscious, and Dylan has simply awakened us to them.

The album's strong showing in the marketplace has nothing to do with airplay (since it has received none on mainstream formats) and everything to do with a basic tenet of marketing: Make potential buyers aware of a product they may want. Columbia made sure that older consumers knew that Dylan, who earlier this year won an Oscar for the song "Things Have Changed" (itself a great wake-up call for his longtime fans), has a new album. A zany TV spot featuring Dylan playing cards with, among others, magician Ricky Jay, ran on such nontraditional outlets as ESPN and other niche cable channels, where the label's marketing team knew it would be seen by the male boomers who comprise a major part of Dylan's core audience. Additionally, incessant touring has kept the tireless Dylan in the eye of the media.

Columbia Records Group CEO Don Ienner is well aware of the widespread desire for music of substance and depth. "There are a lot of people who aren't served by the music that they hear today," he told Reuters, "and this is the kind of record that people are hungry for."

This project doesn't rely on or require conventional promotion techniques. It isn't going to sell based on the appeal of a particular song but rather from its coherence as an album. It's an hour's worth of sustained inventiveness that will likely be as relevant in 25 or 35 years as Blonde on Blonde and Blood on the Tracks continue to be today. Like great literature or classic cinema, a record like Love and Theft functions on a different level entirely from mainstream product—in this case, the largely ephemeral music that dominates, and has always dominated, Top 40 playlists.

Now that it's in a substantial number of people's homes and cars, the album will almost certainly build momentum via word of mouth, much as left-field upper-demo hits like Buena Vista Social Club and the soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou? did—but with the added hook that this is the work of a revered figure whose renewed vitality will prove inspirational to many. Indeed, the album is such a wholehearted return to form for the Hall of Famer that we've taken to referring to it as Highway 61 Revisited Revisited.

Destiny seems to have called on '60s trailblazer Dylan yet again, corresponding the album's release date with the first day of the rest of our lives: Sept. 11. Just below the surface of Love and Theft, Dylan addresses the mortal dread that plagues our sleep in troubled times, but he also reminds us of the enduring comforts that sustain us through life's most difficult passages.

Thank you, Mr. Dylan, for coming up with just what we needed, at precisely the right moment. Somebody send a copy to the President—NOW.

HITS LIST IS
IN THE MAIL
A not-so-subtle reminder to fill out that ballot. (10/15a)
NEAR TRUTHS: THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD
The lives behind live music. (10/14a)
HARVEY MASON JR.:
THE HITS INTERVIEW
The Grammy chief takes our call. (10/14a)
RAINMAKERS 2020: COMING SOON
It will rain again this fall--we guarantee it. (10/13a)
STEVIE WONDER PARTNERS WITH REPUBLIC
First music in 15 years. (10/14a)
RAINMAKERS 2020
Bring your umbrella.
GRAMMY OUTLIERS
Mulling possible surprises.
HALLOWEEN IN QUARANTINE
Why not wear a mask indoors?
ELECTION 2020
What drugs will help us get there?
 Email

 First Name

 Last Name

 Company

 Country
CAPTCHA code
Captcha: (type the characters above)