Sorry, Bob Dylan's Self Portrait Is Still a Bad Album
Perhaps you've read the weirdly fawning praise of Bob Dylan's tenth installment in his famed Bootleg Series, Another Self Portrait 1969-1971. ("One of the most important, coherent and fulfilling Bob Dylan albums ever released," some buffoon for Rolling Stone just claimed!)
Perhaps, while in your collecting-every-Dylan-record phase, you presumed that the critics of the early 1970s were wrong, and that Self Portrait couldn't really be all that bad. Perhaps it's been collecting dust, ever since you listened to it twice and decided you'd rather spin Highway 61 Revisited for the hundredth time.
And, worse yet, perhaps you're thinking that you want to give it another chance. Don't.
As most of the reviews are drawing attention to its original Greil Marcus takedown ("What is this shit?" he famously asked in his Rolling Stone review upon the album's 1970 release), it can't hurt to draw attention to it once more. But here's the catch: don't listen to Columbia Records, Marcus was right the first time. What is this shit?
I won't argue that there's nothing worthwhile on Self Portrait, or that some of the bonus tracks included on the Bootleg Series version aren't worth a spin or two. "Days of '49" remains a charming track, and the stripped version of "When I Paint My Masterpiece" is arresting and haunting. But a few diamonds in the rough do not an excellent album make; hell, they don't even make a better-than-you-remember classic.
What's most surprising about this praise is that critics seemed more willing to take Dylan down a peg when he was at the height of his powers (or at least only an album or two removed from them.)
But for a guy who's released a surfeit of truly abysmal stuff in the past few decades--we're now giving him the lifetime pass?