Strange how coincidences come together, though I wonder how much of a coincidence it is that the only two Dylan cover albums released in 1982 were both out of Sweden. I met a Swedish woman last year and I told her that I had just bought a Dan Tillberg record. “Dan Tillberg,” she exclaimed, “is famous in Sweden.” So there you go. Dan’s the man. The other is Mikael Wiehe. Both utilize the latest in 80s technology to make music, though Tillberg’s effort is by far the more commercial of the two. More often than not, the whole thing sounds like bad Phil Collins or Meatloaf-meets-Go West. Yes, it’s that awful. There is one track here however that uses some kind of industrial rhythm and sounds similar to the vastly superior Wiehe album De Ensligas Alle.
There’s a whole bunch of liner notes and a message from Dan Tillberg on the back sleeve, but it’s all in Swedish. A quick attempt to translate a few sentences with Google resulted in gobbledegook, so I’ll just have to go with my ears on this one. I can tell you though that the record title means, “Love Minus Zero” which strangely does not feature on the album. Spela den vinyl Bumstead…
Hopploshetens Grand (Desolation Row)… a crystal clear shiny eighties sound, with the most ridiculous vocal I’ve ever heard on a Dylan covers album. Tillberg’s voice is drowned in echo, and he sings in this pompous whispery voice, trailing vapours of ice, and ringed by sheeny guitar sounds, and a big electronic drum sound. It’s quite funny I guess, and if it wasn’t for that po-faced album cover and Dan’s bare chest on the back sleeve, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was taking the piss. But he’s Swedish right? Just think of every early eighties big pop sound and that’s what you have here. Reverb rules. Grandiosity prevails. There’s nothing actually wrong with his singing, and as the song gets deeper into its verses, the whole thing starts to grow on you. It’s quite a heavy sound, with slow fade out.
Jag Langtar (I Want You)… sounds a lot like The Cars’s 1984 hit “You Might Think” when it starts; cowbells, a corny eighties electric guitar sound. I’ve played this record quite a few times now, and this song has established itself as a pop song in its own right in my mind, but nothing that sounds much like Dylan’s original. It’s pretty funny. The chorus goes: ”Jag langtar, jag langtar, jag langtar var ar du?” but it sounds more like “Yolenkar, yolenkar, yolenka, oh lay vu.” Oh yeah, hot Swede mama, Dan Tillberg wants you. Again, over use of reverb, echo, electronic drums, with polymoog and glockenspiel.
Mitt Inre Ar I Uppror (One Too Many Mornings)… opens as a piano ballad with Tillberg singing in high emotive strains, somewhat similar to Meatloaf. In fact that’s exactly what this sounds like – a Jim Steinman/Meatloaf collaboration. And sure enough, when that completely over-the-top opening breaks into a churning meaningful soaring lead guitar line with slow drumbeat, you don’t know whether to laugh or kick a shoe at your record player. This super shiny sound renders many of these songs virtually unrecognizable as Dylan covers. Once again, I can’t hear much of the original melody here. Big stoopid electric guitar stabbing thing at the end.
Det Gar Mot Kvall (snart ar det natt) (A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall)… is really fast, 100 bpm type stuff. It’s still Meatloafesque, but the speed redeems it as some kind of electro-punkish version and again, it sounds so unlike Dylan’s original that you can sort of admire the fun they’re having in forking around with the tune. Brief drum solo in the middle, before Tillberg starts emoting again in this desperately important voice. It’s not exactly my kind of thing. The eighties aesthetic destroys everything, but as a Dylan cover version, this is bearable.
Fa Vara Ung (Forever Young)… another desperate attempt at poignancy with a lone electric guitar lead, then Dan-the-man going into super breathy emotive singing as he gears up for the horrid anthemic chorus. “Fa vara ung / Fa vara ung / Ma du alltid / Fa vara ung.” Oh man this is bad. It’s really slow, a lone organ shimmering in the background, some Pink Floyd-like guitar lines floating around in the background. Some female backing singers shine like rays of light from behind Tillberg’s awful soaring chorus vocal. I guess I shouldn’t be so negative. There’s people out there who probably still love this kind of thing; retro-chic? Revisionist subjectivity? ie. Who am I to say this is shit just because it’s 30 years old? It makes no pretenses to be anything other than fashion … as in fashionable shit.
Inte Jag, Du (It Ain’t Me Babe)… several strums across a harp and a steadily rising Tillberg vocal as he builds it up to the chorus. Again, because all these versions employ big heavy echoey eighties pop beats, Dylan’s melodies end up being forced into tight pop song structures, simplified and all meaning is completely lost. Dan can’t help singing like a total prat. The guitarist can’t help trying to make every note sound like guitar-masters of the universe. Whoever’s playing those drums should be shot.
Hon Tillhor Mej (She Belongs To Me)… as if Dan’s singing wasn’t already breathy and emotive enough, here they swamp him beneath a tonne of reverb. There’s not much left to be said about this. It’s the same old thing. A big pop beat, soaring vapour trail vocals, horrid drums, pretentious guitar, and a Dylan tune completely lost under the production.
Forlat Mej (Mama You’ve Been On My Mind)… the weird thing is, just as I think they’ve pushed the boundaries of pretentious bloated pop crap, they somehow manage to up the ante with ever more Meatloafian antics. They do it by having quiet portentous instrumentation while Dan sings in this whispery wavery voice as if he’s inhaled a thousand Romeos and he’s trying to woo the world. And then, the same trashy electric guitar lead soars through the mix. “Mama, you’ve been on my mind”? No, not at all. This is generic, tuneless, euro-trash that has nothing to do with Bob Dylan. That guitarist and all that echo! Argh, enough!
Ingen Vag Tillbaks (I Threw It All Away)… oh, oh, no way. This actually opens with a really nice strummed acoustic guitar, and a Dylan sixties organ sound. The vocal is quite impassioned, but the drums are pretty much the same rubbish. The guitar is quite different this time, a squealy, wobbly thing. Tillberg begins to get more and more impassioned though and again we end up with meaningless, dull, turgid, tuneless, euro-garbage. It speeds up towards the end but only to fade out.
Ni Som Tjanar Pa Krig (Masters Of War)… counts in on an ominously bashed bass drum, and a military snare. This is the album’s only genuinely interesting track. It’s hard, and industrial and works as a precursor to the Mikael Wiehe album I’ll be reviewing next. Tillberg’s vocal is, again, really impassioned, but in an angry way this time, nasty, hard. The music is that incessant slow, heavy beat, some vicious electro-chords being thrashed across the mix, and a distant organ sound. A new rhythm starts up, industrial, electric, insistent. The “Masters Of War” tune is only lightly discernable, but here we’re finally getting something quite different to the rest of the album. All the music drops out, and now we have a lone military snare and Dan yelling over top of that, before all the musicians drop back into the mix. Now it’s loud and scary, really dark, and pretty cool. It ends with the sound of a bomb going off. A little over the top perhaps, but by far the best thing here.
If they’d done the whole thing as electro-grind it might have been interesting from start to finish. I’m sure for Swedes in 1982, this probably sounded of the moment. But Tillberg can’t help singing every song as if he was on his knees praying or whispering to the heavens, and so it rings about as true as Duran Duran for Swedish yacht rockers. I don’t mind artists revising Dylan’s melodies, but most of the songs here end up sounding like technology over artistry, and style over substance. Oscar Wilde would have loved it.
Danny boy was born in 1953 meaning he was 29 when he made this record. His first band was what Wiki refers to as the “forgotten prog-influenced duo Angel Child.” Lol. From the years 1973 to 1987 he released seven albums. His 1979 effort was an album of Rolling Stones covers. His biggest album was entitled Erogenous Zones. Double ugh to that. Eventually he quit music and started a PR company which went bankrupt. He tried starting a music label and reissued some of his old music, but that went bankrupt too. Some people just don’t know when to give up.