Bryan Ferry – Positively 4th Street (2007)
from the album “Dylanesque”.
As much as I love the original song and count it as one of my all time favourite songs, and as much as Dylan has inspired some great covers by famous artists and groups over the years (and there are PLENTY to choose from!), Bryan Ferry must be considered a true master of interpreting his songs. I’d go almost as far as saying this version improves the original, or at least, as one should demand from a really good cover version, has a different take on it.
True. Dylan’s songs almost always offer a personal angle for the singer to take, and Dylan covers are always interesting, but do they improve on the original song? Far from it, I’d say only a handful does, but then again, I’m one of those people who really don’t see the point of recording a cover version if you truly do not mean to do a different take on it, or vastly improve on what was missing.
While the original was spiteful and venomous, this is a mournful, regretful look back on a relationship that the protagonist had a long time ago, and the emphasis is in the subtle vocal delivery and the changing of the phrasing. It was a long time ago, you can tell by the swooning, wistful strings, and the singer is simply reminiscing about things he, and the antagonist, did wrong in their youth. Yeah, admittedly, anyone covering Dylan is going to sound… nicer, than the original. But really, that feels like the actual point here; because, as you get older, you kind of smooth out a bit. The things you were once so sure of, the things that were once so black and white, are now meshed into a greyish pool of different perspectives and feelings gathered from years gone by and all the people you met. It’s not just a kiss-off anymore, but it almost sounds like Ferry wants his old friend back, and puts the emphasis on exactly that side of it; they did, in fact, used to be friends, before something got in the way. The singer is now able to see past what happened between the two people, and able to see past his own feelings of betrayal, and at the same time acknowledge the fact that he was hurting and maybe still is, but not as much (the way Ferry pronounces the line “I wish that for just one time, you could stand inside my shoes.. you’d know what a DRAG it is to see you” is simply sublime).
What can sometimes be the problem with the Dylan originals, is the vocal delivery, because some people are straight out put off by the artists lack of vocal technique and squawking. It takes some getting used to, and you could on the other side argue that this is what brings uniqueness to Dylan himself as an artist and what brings his songs some grit. What can also happen, in worst case scenario, is that the beauty of his melodies becomes muddled in this, and makes you unable as a listener to fully appreciate everything great about a Dylan song. In this case, I think Ferry highlights and improves on exactly what I just mentioned, and it is a sheer delight to hear.
Maybe I shouldn’t go as far as to say it’s better than the original (though sometimes I do, depending on my mood), but rather that it’s the same song about the same situation but in different perspectives in different stages of life. Yeah, that’s it, I think.