Beyond Description (1973–1989)
Part Nine: In the Dark
The Music Box's #8 specialty package for 2004
First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2004, Volume 11, #12
Written by John Metzger
On the title track to his 1982 solo outing Run for the Roses, Jerry Garcia sang, "All good things in all good time," a sentiment that certainly rang true for the Grateful Dead when its 11th studio album In the Dark became the hit that long had eluded the band. In fact, after aborting an attempt to record in 1984, the ensemble had stopped trying to force something that wasn’t meant to happen, and that proved to be the first step towards escaping the pitfalls that had derailed many of its prior efforts. As a result, the group had more time to perfect its material, and when Garcia fell into and out of a diabetic coma in 1986, it finally had the impetus not only to focus upon the matter at hand, but also to succeed. Further fueling its fire, the Grateful Dead captured the basic tracks for the effort by performing as a cohesive unit within a concert-simulated setting rather than as individual components stuck inside a sterile environment, and the work proceeded so rapidly that the collective didn’t have time to become bored with the routine before the project was complete.
The result was the Grateful Dead’s finest studio release since its twin gems from 1970: Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty. Beginning with the jaunty sing-along Touch of Grey, which turned out to be the group’s only Top Ten single, In the Dark’s seven songs were as natural and easy-going as anything the band had ever recorded, and the crisp, clean, crackling energy that pervaded the album’s every nook and cranny was a testament to the collective’s complete rebirth. Hell in a Bucket was the raging rock ’n‘ roll offspring of Go to Heaven’s funky Feel Like a Stranger; the sprightly shuffle of When Push Comes to Shove fully embraced its playfully paranoid lyrics about love; and Bob Weir’s Throwing Stones ranted and raved just like an anthem should. Elsewhere, West L.A. Fadeaway, with its popcorn percussion, placed a snaky spin upon a simmering blues groove, while on Tons of Steel, Brent Mydland, who by this point had assimilated himself quite well into the framework of the ensemble, beautifully mutated his snarling blues tune about a broken relationship into pop-oriented fare. As for the wistful, gospel-folk song Black Muddy River, it was the most deeply personal and hauntingly affective composition within the band’s canon, and it provided a fitting conclusion to a terrific outing that many diehard fans continue to overlook, simply because it propelled the Grateful Dead into the mainstream.
Anchored by a trio of rehearsal cuts (Black Muddy River, When Push Comes to Shove, and Touch of Grey), half of the bonus material that appears on the reissue of In the Dark may be intriguing to some, but that still doesn’t make it terribly essential. That said, the concert rendition of Throwing Stones builds upon the fury of its studio counterpart with supremely solid results, and sparked by the intricate guitar interplay between Garcia and Weir, a leisurely stroll through West L.A. Fadeaway — which was culled from the fruitless, aforementioned recording session in 1984 — is punctuated as much by Phil Lesh’s burbling bass and Mydland’s many keyboard textures as it is by the rolling percussion provided by the tandem of Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart. The real nugget, however, is the long-lost B-side My Brother Esau, which was cut from the original vinyl version due to time considerations and is as amazingly good as anything that appeared on the album itself. ½
This is the ninth installment of a ten-part series, which will examine Beyond Description (1973–1989) 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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In the Dark [REMASTERED] is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2004 The Music Box