Soon after waking up this morning I put on Saved and indulged in my first Sunday-morning gospel hour in who knows how long. Dylan took me back to church, leading with the epistolary message,
“How many times have you heard someone say
If I had his money, I’d do things my way
But it’s so hard to find
A rich man in ten with a satisfied mind”
There’s a youthful vigor to the voice here, sparsely accompanied and full of the spirit. While declaiming wealth, Dylan sounds transported to his early folk years. I don’t mind the message, either; more money, more problems.
The second, title track, “Saved,” is a full-on gospel tune evoking images of sinners and worshippers clapping and stomping in the sanctuary. “I’ve been saved / by the blood of the lamb.” The praise songs don’t end there. “What Can I Do for You” is a direct query to Dylan’s savior. “Solid Rock” returns to the rhythm and blues of Slow Train Comin’, and with more imaginative lyrics could’ve been a high point in this cycle of albums. The songs “In the Garden,” “Saving Grace,” and “Are You Ready” all tackle the exact biblical themes their titles suggest. This is straightforward, genuine gospel rock.
The music is very good on this album, and Dylan sings well throughout. Saved is among his cleanest albums to date. So why was I smirking more than my spirit was lifting? I continued listening at points during the day, attempting an answer. By supper, I realized I missed the absurdity, the ambiguity of Dylan’s former lyrics. The words here are reinforced with a certainty rarely expressed in the Dylan oeuvre. “When he rose from the dead, did they believe?” on “In the Garden” packs the weight of a major religion into its assumptions, whereas a question like, “How does it feel?” assumes the imminently more universal experience of coming of age. Dylan doesn’t attempt to answer either question, but I’m at least interested in hearing him answer the latter, and will bring my own answers to the table.
Do I get this album? The message is pretty much on the surface; there’s no idiosyncratic theology or grand statement to get. Do I need the previous albums to get it? Knowing about his conversion to Christianity in 1978 helps the most. Do I like it? I’m ambivalent.