Beyond Description (1973Ė1989)
Part Ten: Built to Last
The Music Box's #8 specialty package for 2004
First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2004, Volume 11, #12
Written by John Metzger
Even by studio standards, Built to Last isnít the finest representation of the Grateful Deadís capabilities, but it does fare better than common perception would lead one to believe. Still, old habits die hard, and when the Grateful Dead began working on what would become its final studio album, it quickly forgot all of the lessons that it had learned from the making of In the Dark. Perhaps if the group had taken just a little more time to allow its songs to ripen ó the ensemble had started to tinker with MIDI-technology, but it hadnít yet mastered its new toy ó the process might have yielded a minor masterpiece. After all, the set was full of moments that could have been something more had they only been given the chance to mature. In the end, however, Built to Last was rushed to completion, its components were stitched together from individually recorded accompaniments, and its material just didnít flow in a seamlessly cohesive fashion. As a result, the outing frequently felt forced, and it essentially was a return to the disjointed imperfection of Shakedown Street.
Faring worst of all was Bob Weirís edgy Picasso Moon, which the Grateful Dead never sounded comfortable performing. Equally atrocious was We Can Run, Brent Mydlandís melodically simplistic, country-folk tune, which, despite having a lot of heart, quickly grew tedious. At the other end of the spectrum stood another gem from the long-running and wildly successful collaboration between Jerry Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter. Merging an infectious melody with a soaring instrumental interlude, the colorful Foolish Heart perfectly suited the Grateful Deadís freewheeling style. Likewise, the exquisite Just a Little Light, which was awash in brightly splattered flashes of keyboards, offered the band another occasion in which to flex its collective muscle. Although the group rarely took full advantage of the opportunities that the tune presented, it was without a doubt the finest composition that Mydland contributed to the ensemble.
The rest of the material on Built to Last fell somewhere in the middle: Standing on the Moon was an outstanding song, but its studio incarnation was lacking in passion and conviction; Victim or the Crime was as challenging a selection as any that the band had ever performed, and although it was a tad overproduced, its eerie textures were, nonetheless, oddly compelling; I Will Take You Home was an absolutely lovely lullaby, but it truly didnít sound like something from the Grateful Dead until it blossomed from one of the bandís meditatively space-y, jazz-fusion segments; and the bouncy title track was perfunctorily performed, though Garciaís MIDI-induced trumpet solo hinted at the many doors that now were open to creative exploration. The driving rock of Blow Away was reduced, on album, to Doobie Brothers-style soul and largely lacked the raw, tormented anguish that poured through its many concert counterparts. Not surprisingly, a much feistier rendition is featured as one of Built to Lastís few bonus tracks, and, complete with an improvisational rap, it rants and raves with all the tortured agony that its lyrics suggest. Also added to the recent reissue is a heartfelt cover of Rodney Crowellís California Earthquake as well as an energetic romp through an expansive Foolish Heart that single-handedly illuminates Built to Lastís many, unfortunate flaws. Ĺ
This is the tenth installment of a ten-part
series, which will examine Beyond Description (1973Ė1989) on
an album by album basis. The entire set is rated:
Of Further Interest...
Beyond Description (1973-1989) is available from Barnes & Noble.
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Built to Last [REMASTERED] is available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2004 The Music Box