I have now listened to Under A Red Sky four times in the last two days and frankly I don’t get it. I also have the feeling that this may have been Dylan’s intent. On the surface it appears to be a children’s album of nonsensical nursery rhymes or possibly The Brothers Grimm on crack.
Dylan had been busy working on the Traveling Wilburys second album with George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty and Roy Orbison. Looking back it seems that Dylan enjoyed his time with The Wilburys as he appeared relaxed and happy. It may have been that for once all the focus and expectations were not solely on him. It was basically a fun time for all involved. I think that some of that whimsy carried over to Under A Red Sky. The problem was that only Dylan was in on the joke.
Don and David Was were hired to produce the album. This was not a good choice as they were much to pop oriented and slick for Dylan’s sound. I’m not sure that they really understood him or his music. Then there was the who’s who of musicians making contributions to this project: George Harrison, Slash, David Crosby, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Elton John, and a host of others.
I find that the music itself is fine and fairly melodic. It is the incomprehensibility of the lyrics that is the problem. Dylan’s gravelly voice does not help matters either.
The first two tracks set the tone for what will follow. “Wiggle Wiggle” is just plain odd. I played this track over and over and it just got stranger. “Under The Red Sky” would feature a beautiful guitar solo by George Harrison that would be overshadowed by the seemingly meaningless childlike lyrics. Even David Crosby can’t save such songs as “Born In Time” and “2 X 2.”
And so, gentle readers, I leave it up to you. It seems that Dylan went from the poetry of Oh Mercy to the nursery rhymes of Under The Red Sky. Maybe I’ll just play this album for my six year old granddaughter. Her interpretation will probably be as good as mine.