Wild Mercury Sound
Bob Dylan vs Mark Ronson
Much wringing of hands and righteous indignation in Dylanworld today, as Mark Ronson's remix of "Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)" is unveiled at Dylan07.com. Outrage and accusations of sacrilege, I imagine, will be the first responses of many of you.
But come on, no-one's died here. To put things into perspective, it's not as if the original version of "Most Likely" has been permanently suppressed. Buy "Blonde On Blonde", and Ronson's remix won't have suddenly materialised there in place of the wild mercury rattle of Dylan's version.
And, to be honest, I don't think the remix is quite the disaster it could have been. It's not an atrocity on the scale of that Neptunes remix of "Sympathy For The Devil" from a few years back, for instance. In fact, if one of Ronson's regular clients like Amy Winehouse had been the singer instead of Dylan, we'd probably be proclaiming this as an audacious rethink of one of Dylan's funkier moments.
Ronson might be a populist, and one whose buffed-up vintage soul schtick may well date very badly. But he's a fairly clever operator with a keen grasp of history; not, let's be clear, an oaf like Junkie XL, the Dutch big beat no-mark who famously murdered Elvis' "A Little Less Conversation". Maybe we should think of him as this decade's Dave Stewart, providing Dylan with an ephemeral, radio-friendly glaze.
Dylan isn't easily made presentable, of course. And while there's a good chance this daft little record might become Number One, it doesn't quite work for me. Amidst all the breaks and brashness, the fancy footwork and the nods to "The Champ" by The Mohawks, Dylan's rancorous vocal sounds a little small and overwhelmed. The momentum of Dylan's songs are usually driven by his personality, his flow, but here he's much more of a passenger.
Is this a desecration of Dylan's genius? Of course not; you need never hear it again. It'd be churlish to posit this as another re-invention of Dylan's back catalogue comparable to his endless live reinterpretations of his old songs: those are done completely on his own terms, whereas this is clearly a very clever marketing scam driven by his record label.
But, again, let's not be disingenuous and imagine Dylan to be so pure and innocent, being bullied into an ugly new world of commercial exigencies. Those Victoria's Secret ads didn't make themselves, for a start. And he's even, contrary to the promotional waffle, allowed his songs to be remixed before: check the wretched Italian hip hop version of "Like A Rolling Stone" by Articolo 31 on the "Masked And Anonymous" soundtrack. In that context, Ronson's "Most Likely" feels like great art.
I imagine it'll drive me crazy in a week or two. And sure, it'd be lovely if Columbia were giving the big push to the original version. There's something a little patronising about the assumption that a new audience could only understand Dylan through a remix, when the original of "Most Likely" is such a bright, approachable and quite brilliant record. But if the Ronson job introduces a bunch of newcomers to the mysteries and riches of the Dylan archive, is that such a bad thing?