This came out in 2001 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):
Some people settle down as they get older. Some folks just keep getting feistier. The feisty ones, I suspect, are having way more fun.
It’s not surprising that idiosyncratic genius Bob Dylan has turned out to be one of the feisty ones. Although, for a few years there, it looked like it could go either way. After being a musical icon throughout the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, ole Zimmy seemed to fade away for most of the ’90s, churning out uninspired live albums and forgettable studio discs that won awards and were critically praised but made little impact with fans.
Like a lot of middle-agers, it took a brush with the Grim Reaper to jumpstart Bob’s zest for life. After a 1997 health scare over a heart condition, Dylan seemed rejuvenated, taking to the road more or less permanently on his aptly titled Neverending Tour and penning scrappier, upbeat fare like his Oscar-winning song Things Have Changed. Indeed they had.
That change has never been more apparent than on Love And Theft, the 43rd album in almost as many years from this quintessential American songwriter. “Feel like a fighting rooster, feel better than I ever felt,” he boasts cockily here — and he ain’t just talking. On Love And Theft’s dozen winning cuts, the 60-year-old Dylan puts his money and his musical moxie where his mouth is, delivering what may be his most playful, personable and just plain enjoyable disc to date.
Most of its appeal comes from the fact that the Dylan, frankly, has stopped trying so hard. Now that he’s old enough to qualify for seniors’ discounts, he’s apparently decided to quit worrying about impressing people and just do whatever the hell he wants. And what he wants these days is to get down and jam with his crack touring band. Love And Theft’s tracks — reportedly recorded in less than two weeks and underproduced by Dylan himself under the pseudonym Jack Frost — have a loose, live, laid-back feel. Not to mention a historic vibe; from rockabilly boogie to Tin Pan Alley balladry to Appalachian bluegrass to country swing to ragtimey jazz to rolling Chicago blues, each of these numbers mines an authentic vein of rustic Americana, making Love And Theft into a musical history tour.
That is, when Dylan isn’t threatening to turn it into a standup comedy act. Armed with a comic moustache and the croakiest, wheeziest vocals since Tom Waits, Dylan makes like somebody’s oddball old uncle at the family gathering, telling bad jokes and tall tales, spinning rambling yarns, offering ridiculous advice and generally having a blast. “Poor boy in a hotel called the Palace of Gloom / Called down to room service, says, ‘Send up a room,’ ” he cracks on Po’ Boy, whose lyrics also feature — believe it or not — a knock-knock joke (“Freddy or not, here I come”). All he needs is a rimshot and he’s ready for the Catskills. You almost expect him to ask you to pull his finger.
The point of all this whimsy? Well, you’ll find it in the dreamy closing ballad Sugar Baby — “Every moment of existence seems like some dirty trick.” In other words, life is just God’s big joke. And you might as well laugh, ’cause otherwise you’re gonna have to cry.
Don’t think for a second Dylan’s lost his edge, though. Tracks like Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum (which works as political allegory about the U.S. election, even if it isn’t), Floater (Too Much To Ask) and High Water (For Charley Patton) show Dylan’s knack for social commentary is just as sharp as ever, while romantic ballads like Bye And Bye show he still knows how to write a love song. But for me, one couplet from the Waitsian Mississippi says it all: “Stick with me baby / Stick with me anyhow / Things should start to get interesting right about now.”
The fun, it seems, is just beginning.