Under the Red Sky
|Under the Red Sky|
|Studio album by|
|Released||September 10, 1990|
|Recorded||January 1990, March–May 1990|
|Producer||"Jack Frost" (Bob Dylan), Don Was, and David Was|
|Bob Dylan chronology|
The album was largely greeted as a strange and disappointing follow-up to 1989's critically acclaimed Oh Mercy. Most of the criticism was directed at the slick sound of pop producer Don Was, as well as a handful of tracks that seem rooted in children's nursery rhymes. It is a rarity in Dylan's catalog for its inclusion of celebrity cameos by Jimmie Vaughan, Slash, Elton John, George Harrison, David Crosby, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Bruce Hornsby.
The album is dedicated to "Gabby Goo Goo", later explained to be a nickname for Dylan's four-year-old daughter. This has led to the popular assumption that the album's more childlike songs were for her entertainment, something that has never been confirmed nor denied by Dylan.
Four songs from the album, "Handy Dandy", "10,000 Men", "God Knows", and "Cat's in the Well", were recorded in a single session in Los Angeles on 6 January 1990, before Dylan commenced a four-week tour. ("Handy Dandy" received overdubs subsequently.) Dylan biographer Clinton Heylin writes that Dylan finished recording the basic tracks for the album in mid-March 1990, but added new vocals to some tracks the following month, with instrumental overdub sessions extending into May 1990.
Unlike the rest of his discography, the album features numerous guest appearances by established artists, such as Bruce Hornsby, Elton John and George Harrison. Additionally, session musicians like pianist Al Kooper and guitarist Waddy Wachtel appear throughout the album. The album opener, "Wiggle Wiggle", also features Slash on guitar, while "10,000 Men" features Stevie Ray Vaughan. The title track features a "fine guitar solo" by George Harrison; Heylin has called this track an "important song", noting that it has been a staple of Dylan's live performances.
Two songs, "Born in Time" and "God Knows", are reworkings of material originally recorded at the previous year's Oh Mercy sessions. Versions of these songs from the Oh Mercy sessions are included on The Bootleg Series Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs. The intro to "Unbelievable" (which was released as a single, with an accompanying promotional video) is very similar to the intro on Carl Perkins's "Honey Don't", as sung by The Beatles on Beatles for Sale.
According to producer Don Was, there were two outtakes from the album: "Shirley Temple Doesn't Live Here Anymore" (which Dylan co-wrote with Was and David Weiss) and "Heartland" (which Dylan later sang with Willie Nelson on Nelson's 1993 album Across the Borderline). "Shirley Temple Doesn't Live Here Anymore" was later recorded by Don Was's group Was (Not Was) for their 2008 album Boo! as "Mr. Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore".
|Christgau's Consumer Guide||A−|
|Encyclopedia of Popular Music|||
|Los Angeles Times|||
Dylan has echoed most critics' complaints, telling Rolling Stone in a 2006 interview that the album's shortcomings resulted from hurried and unfocused recording sessions, due in part to his activity with the Traveling Wilburys at the time. He also claimed that there were too many people working on the album, and that he was very disillusioned with the recording industry during this period of his career.
Dylan critic Patrick Humphries, author of The Complete Guide to the Music of Bob Dylan, was particularly harsh in his assessment of Under the Red Sky, stating the album "was everything Oh Mercy wasn't—sloppily written songs, lazily performed and unimaginatively produced. The first bridge of "2 X 2" ("How much poison did they inhale?") was reminiscent of the menace which pervaded Oh Mercy, but otherwise, where before there had been certainty and sureness, here was confusion and indecision."
Humphries saved his harshest attack for the album's opening song, "Wiggle Wiggle":
|“||Then there's "Wiggle Wiggle": worse than anything Dylan has ever recorded? Maybe not that bad, but certainly up there, jostling for position in that particular part of hell, where the jukebox plays nothing but "Joey" (from Desire) and "Had a Dream About You, Baby" (from Down in the Groove). "Wiggle Wiggle" was the one the critics jumped on, particularly the line "Wiggle wiggle wiggle like a bowl of soup", which was taken as proof positive that Dylan had lost it, definitely, permanently, irrevocably. It was hard to disagree—it is hard to reconcile such a line with the man who wrote "Desolation Row" (from Highway 61 Revisited). Of course, you can't get Hamlet or "Like a Rolling Stone" every time out of the traps, but "Wiggle Wiggle"?||”|
The album did have some critical support, particularly from Robert Christgau of The Village Voice, who wrote: "To my astonishment, I think Under the Red Sky is Dylan's best album in 15 years, a record that may even signal a ridiculously belated if not totally meaningless return to form … It's fabulistic, biblical … the tempos are postpunk like it oughta be, with [Kenny] Aronoff's sprints and shuffles grooving ahead like '60s folk-rock never did." And Paul Nelson, writing for Musician, called the album "a deliberately throwaway masterpiece". When the Voice held its Pazz & Jop Critics Poll for 1990, Under the Red Sky placed at #39.
In the end, album sales were disappointing, peaking at #38 on the US charts and #13 in the UK. According to the book Down The Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan, the disappointing record sales of this album made him depressed. On top of that, Dylan's second wife had just signed for divorce in August 1990.
Dylan continued the style of the album with his recording of the nursery rhyme "This Old Man", which was released on the Disney charity album For Our Children in 1991. For his follow-up album, Good As I Been to You (1992), Dylan went back to his acoustic roots, recording more serious songs.
In 2005, Q magazine included the lead-off track "Wiggle Wiggle" in a list of "Ten Terrible Records by Great Artists". Time Magazine placed "Wiggle Wiggle" on the list of The 10 Worst Bob Dylan Songs, noting that it "sounds like the theme song to one of those tripped-out television shows beloved by toddlers and drug users". The song was covered on the 2014 tribute album Bob Dylan in the 80s: Volume One by Slash and Aaron Freeman. Its lyrics were also the namesake for the Danish pop/rock band Big Fat Snake.
All tracks are written by Bob Dylan.
|2.||"Under the Red Sky"||4:09|
|4.||"Born in Time"||3:39|
|5.||"T.V. Talkin' Song"||3:02|
|2.||"2 × 2"||3:36|
|5.||"Cat's in the Well"||3:21|
|Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland)||Gold||25,000^|
|United Kingdom (BPI)||Silver||60,000^|
*sales figures based on certification alone
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- "British album certifications – Bob Dylan – Under the Red Sky". British Phonographic Industry. Select albums in the Format field. Select Silver in the Certification field. Type Under the Red Sky in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.