June 10: Empire Burlesque by Bob Dylan was released in 1985


June 10: Empire Burlesque by Bob Dylan was released in 1985

Empire Burlesque is singer-songwriter Bob Dylan’s 23rd studio album, it was released by Columbia Records 10 June 1985. The album peaked at #33 in the US and #11 in the UK.

Allmusic (Stephen Thomas Erlewine):

“Say what you want about Empire Burlesque — at the very least, it’s the most consistent record Bob Dylan has made since Blood on the Tracks, even if it isn’t quite as interesting as Desire. However, it is a better set of songs, all deriving from the same place and filled with subtle gems — the most obvious being “Tight Connection to My Heart (Has Anybody Seen My Love?),” but also “Emotionally Yours” and “Dark Eyes” — proving that his powers are still there.”

I’ll Remember You (my favorite version from the movie Masked and Anonymous):

Bob Dylan fans and music critics continue to debate the album’s merits, especially when compared to the styles he pioneered in the 1960s and 1970s. It is one of Dylan’s most discussed albums in terms of quality, having a distinct “80s style” production to the songs. There are some really great songs on this album, but they seem hidden under the “80s sound”.

The sessions for Empire Burlesque were held in New York and Hollywood from July 1984 to April 1985.

Emotionally Yours (official video):

empire 2 cover

The most often voiced complaint against Bob Dylan’s 1985 album, Empire Burlesque is the over produced synth sound , the  “horns” and that characteristic 80s drum sound. A lot of us have wondered how it sounded before they ran it through the 80s “hit-maker” mixer?

Therefore it’s one of those albums that’s been bootlegged extensively, there are many “releases”. Clean Cuts was the first, but it had the wrong tempo. Then came Outside the Empire, Tempest Storm , Tempest Storm ( yes there were two releases with the same name), Real Cuts at last, Empire Burlesque Originals & Outtakes, Empire Burlesque Sessions and The Naked Empire. These are the ones I know of, there might be more. Some of the songs are on a lot of bootleg compilations as well.

I like The Naked Empire best,  it doesn’t have most songs, but the sound is great (best I’ve heard on these alternative takes and outtakes) and it has the best songs (in the correct tempo). Seek it out.

empire 3 outtakes

…and it has a very fine version of New Danville Girl (the song that became Brownsville Girl). To hear the songs in a more stripped down form is a revelation and we see more clearly how good the songs really are (and that one outtake, New Danville Girl, My God!). The 80s sound seep through on some of the songs, even on these early versions, but it is not as annoying and as prominent.

Some of the songs started in the Infidels sessions but ended up on Empire Burlesque. There are also 5 unreleased tracks on this bootleg. If you cannot find it, your second best option is The Real Cuts at Last.

Let’s end this post with a  very fine, Seeing The Real You At Last (1986-07-04):

– Hallgeir

Sources: Allmusic, Wikipedia

5 thoughts on “June 10: Empire Burlesque by Bob Dylan was released in 1985”

  1. “I’ll Remember You” from the movie is simply gorgeous; wish it was on an album somewhere. I loved Empire Burlesque when it came out and still do. That said, I heard a live version of “Trust Yourself” a bit later, bass-heavy and almost angry, that just killed. I’ll never give up: wouldn’t it be nice to download that stuff?

  2. To me, this is the album where Dylan really began his artistic/creative journey into the wilderness of the 80’s. The album seemed listless and Bob sounded bored when it was first released. Like many of his 60’s contemporaries at that time (the Stones most quickly jump to mind), he seemed to be casting around to appear more “relevant”, instead of simply doing what he did best. The results were predictably unsatisfying. It is an album I rarely listen to these days…

  3. ‘ Empire Burlesque ‘ is a great album. This is another another side of BD. The album is far more inventive than people assume both in the lyrics especially his use of song structures,rhymes and phrases and the wonderful arrangements…I believe the overall sound is what Dylan had in mind and it is daring and provocative ( a million miles from the plodding releases he chose for the ‘ Infidels ‘ album although that record could have been a masterpiece ). The sound is a vast improvement on the awful sound, including that damn drum ,of ‘Infidels’, including the devastating use of the second vocal and the brilliant use of the female backing singers with the great Queen Esther Marrow. The killer version of ‘ When the Night…’which leaves the tentative Bootleg Series outtake for dead, the wonderful simplicity of one of his greatest songs ‘ Never Gonna Be The Same Again’ with its chiming beauty, the remarkable directness and cocksure hellfire of ‘ Something, is Burning Baby. Just listen to the two old songs ( Someone’s Gotta Hold of My Heart ‘ and ‘ Clean Cut Kid ‘) and how he transforms them into powerful and playful songs full of musical wit. Big Tip…throw the lyrics away as they are a distraction ( and are not intended to be read! ) and you will actually miss some of the disguised rhymes that only Dylan can achieve with his unique phrasing and singing. This album gets better as the years go by.

  4. I’ve said it before I think, but without trying to advertise it, the new remastered Dutch Music On Vinyl at least has a warmer sound, with the drums less synthetic and hard and the guitars and organ and piano more pronounced than the synthesizers, which makes it in most cases easier to listen to, though the quality of Naked Empire (why not available on vinyl?) is not reached. To me songs like Clean Cut Kid, Never Gonna be the Same Again, Trust Yourself and Emotionally Yours still remain a bit cluttered with irritating effects, and the merits of When the Night Comes Falling will stay up for discussion. To me the version of the E Street band is too cliché, I just don’t like their AOR sound in the eighties, they never reached the heights again of their seventies approach, and the take that appears on the official record is at least passionate and an experiment that deserves attention, although it is tainted by the robotic drums, Dylan’s voice here shines for me and the lyrics are biting more than those in the one with the E Streetband. In fact I like the three songs at the start, and those at the end quite a bit, if I am ready to take some of that eighties atmosphere. A seriously flawed try at regaining his chops, that’s EB for me, and by the way, Brownsville Girl is in my book his only song that has an eighties sound and still is great, I even like it more than New Danville Girl, in which the singing is a bit weaker. In fact this period is of so much interest, together with Infidels and Shot of Love, that I wished there would be a Bootleg Series on it…

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