Knocked Out Loaded was released July 14, 1986 and would be one of the worst selling albums of his career as it would find a distant Dylan who seemed preoccupied. The first hint that this is an unfocused album is the number of musicians and singers that appear in the credits which number over fifty. Ultimately it would not be a terrible release but it would be a forgettable one.
There is one shining moment on the album and that is the 11 minute song co-written by playwright Sam Shepard. The music is average on “Brownsville Girl,” but the lyrical quality is excellent. This haunting song of long lost love has wonderful lines and is really a novel set to music. Eleven minutes may seem like a long time when listening to a narrative type song but it just flies by. It remains one of Dylan’s better tracks from the 1980’s.
Three songs provide the best of the rest. “You Wanna Ramble” is an old Little Junior Parker tune that at least seems to find Dylan interested. He provides a nice gritty vocal that is sadly missing from much of the album. “Maybe Someday” is a good to middling popish piece that is easy on the ears. “Precious Memories” is an old traditional gospel song that Dylan takes out for a ride. Johnny Cash would provide a terrific interpretation of this song and while this version may not measure up it is still very good.
It is difficult to completely ruin a Kris Kristofferson song but Dylan comes close with his version of “They Killed Him.” There is a children’s choir present that removes just about any other redeeming features the track might contain. I am also not partial to “Under Your Spell” which was written with Carole Baker Sager. While she is a talented songwriter in her own right her style is just too different from that of Bob Dylan.
His motive for creating an album to which he does not seem committed is unknown. On the rare occurrences when I actually play Knocked Out Loaded, except for the one brilliant song, it is just not memorable. However, if you really want to explore some obscure Dylan, then you can give this album a try.