“Hard Rain seemed to come at a time when the Rolling Thunder Revue, so joyful and electrifying in its first performances, had just plain run out of steam.” -Janet Maslin, Rolling Stone
Can you believe there was a time when even Dylan fans thought they were getting too much product?
Between 1974 and 1976, Dylan released four studio albums and two live album, the last of which was Hard Rain. It hit stores on September 13, 1976, timed to coincide with an NBC special and a TV Guide cover story.
(The sound has been removed)
Rolling Stone critic Kit Rachlis joined the pile on, calling it "atrociously recorded".
"To say that Hard Rain is Dylan's least accessible, most chaotic and contemptuous album since Self Portrait is not enough. It doesn't explain why Dylan has made an album which demystifies the Rolling Thunder Revue instead of memorializing it. The album is an enigma. There is no discernible reason why it's not a double set."
(I hate it but I want to hear more.)
Robert Christgau was kinder.
He wrote "The only reason people are disgusted with this record is that they're sick of Dylan--which is understandable, but unfair to the record. The palookas who backed him on this tour sure ain't the Band, and the music and arrangements suffer accordingly--these guys are folkies whose idea of rock and roll is rock and roll clichés. But the material is excellent, and on a few occasions--I gravitate to "Oh Sister" and "Shelter From the Storm"--Dylan sings very well indeed."
To these ears, Dylan sounds like he's spewing the vocals. His ten year marriage to Sara was over and he's raving like a madman, destroying love songs like "Lay Lady Lay" by changing the lyrics. No longer is this an invitation to a romp on a brass bed. Not with new lines like
'Why wait any longer for no need to complain,
You can have love but you might lose it,
Why run any longer when you're running in vain,
You can have the truth but you've got to choose it.'
(You want the truth? You can't handle the truth!)