Ranking Every 'Shadow Kingdom' Song
2021-07-18, Bon Bon Club, Shadow Kingdom
Like many of you, I've spent the past week rewatching and listening to Shadow Kingdom, so I decided to organize my thoughts after some time to process it (if you want the in-the-moment experience, I refer you to last Sunday’s subscribers live chat).
Plenty of reviews focus on the macro - the vibe, cinematic reference points, whether it was really live, what it all means, etc - so I wanted to focus on the micro. Which is, of course, the individual songs. And, since I love a good list to argue over, I ranked ‘em, best to worst.
A few notes before we dive in:
I like the visuals generally, but I don't have strong preferences on Bob on the checkerboard vs. Bob in front of the smokers, etc. (Except for the song where the two girls flanked him - I got distracted thinking how awkward that must have been for the actresses. As one wrote on Twitter, "'twas a vibe." A bad vibe, I'm guessing.) So I’m focusing only on the performances themselves.
Speaking of the performances, I'm ignoring the debates on who played what, how much of it was really live, etc. I'm as interested as anyone, but so far all we really have is speculation. Bob sang it, somebody played it, and, musically, that's enough to judge the songs on.
Also, having already written the list as I’m writing this intro, I realized I focus mostly on the band and the arrangements. That’s because Bob's voice sounds great across the board! It doesn't help to differentiate between songs when on every one he sounds stellar. Good job Bob; no notes.
Okay, worst song to best, once more into the Shadow Kingdom…
14. Watching the River Flow
"Watching the River Flow" isn't bad - none of these are bad - but it is pedestrian. If you saw many Dylan shows in the 2000s, when he played this incessantly, you heard versions that sounded a lot like this. The most notable new addition, the accordion, is relegated to basically playing chords in the background. Figures that Bob (or whoever) picks the worst song for the trailer.
13. I'll Be Your Baby Tonight
I'm generally pro-accordion; the first artist I ever loved was Weird Al, after all! But, after bitching about the instrument’s underuse in the last song, the invasive use here reminds me of some guy belting "O Sole Mio" in your face at an Italian restaurant. Then again, this is generally not a song I think much of, so I'm not inclined to be generous. One of the shortest songs of the show, and, other than the odd actress placement, one of the most forgettable.
12. It's All Over Now, Baby Blue
Making the last song "It's All Over Now" is a little on-the-nose. It's Semisonic ending every show with "Closing Time." If he was going that way, "Restless Farewell" could have been a more surprising choice (the spare version he did for Sinatra’s 80th providing an obvious template for this band). Bob sings the hell out of this, like he sings the hell out of every one of these songs, but ultimately it feels a little sleepy. Which, closing out the evening, is maybe the point.
11. When I Paint My Masterpiece
Anyone who saw Bob on one of his last pre-pandemic tours got a taste of this new "Masterpiece" arrangement, including the many new lyrics. My favorite are "Got to hurry on back to my hotel room / Gotta wash off my clothes, scrape off all of the grease / Gonna lock the doors and turn my back on the world for a while / I'll stay right there till I paint my masterpiece." That makes the narrator seem less like someone who might actually paint a masterpiece and more like a Howard Hughes recluse in training. When he finally returns to the road, if he wants to finally retire "Things Have Changed" from the opening slot, "Masterpiece" would make a worthy substitute.
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