Bringing It All Back Home is a transitional album in about the purest form imaginable. As Dylan struggles with the opposing pulls of folk music and rock, he literally halves the baby with, on the original vinyl, an electric side and an acoustic side. And, testament to Dylan’s genius, I don’t even know which one is better. On the electric side, you have one of the greatest album openers of all time in Subterranean Homesick Blues, a shock of pure adrenaline and brilliance. Maggie’s Farm is the other icon here and it deserves to be. The rollicking Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream is a brilliant stream of consciousness riff on American history as only Dylan could do it. The rest of this side is a step down perhaps from those three moments of genius, but I like them all a lot.
On the acoustic side of things, you’ve got the breathtakingly beautiful Mr. Tambourine Man, which boasts some of the finest lyrics of Dylan’s entire career; I mean, for the line “to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free” alone, right? Then the nihilistic Gates of Eden. Again, the lyrical content really elevates both that one and also It’s Alright, Ma. The latter is delivered in a sardonic sneer that really lets the song sting. And then finally, It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue, again, one of Dylan’s best in my opinion; it’s a song with a beautiful melody and great guitar work and it has levels – I’ve come to believe that Dylan is mostly addressing the song to himself, much as he does the first song on his next album, Like a Rolling Stone. As Dylan starts It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue, and thus ends Bringing It All Back Home, he’s anywhere but home; he’s in a moment of pure transition, the most tenuous place of his entire career. It’s all over now, certainly; you might even say he’s on his own with no direction to that place where he said he was taking everything back. That an album this purely transitional, an album so schizophrenic and so focused on two directions without committing to either could cohere into a great album is kind of amazing. Dylan’s genius is nowhere as evident as this: even when he doesn’t know where he’s going, he ends up at greatness. 4 stars.
tl;dr – half electric, half acoustic, but all brilliant, this album is Dylan in transition, but even in transition, he delivers another masterpiece. 4 stars.