Rakish fop, (in the Hugh Grant rather than the Oscar Wilde mould) and all round loud-mouth Johnny Borrell once claimed that Razorlight’s second album was better than Bob Dylan’s first album. For all his headline-grabbing posturing, when the band’s eponymous sophomore album arrived on our shelves and turned out to be more of the same jingle-heavy indie that their debut had proffered, in no way launching Borrell as ‘a voice of his generation’, the much abashed front man stated that he didn’t claim to be better than Dylan, just that ‘Bob Dylan’ was poorly produced and that Dylan was, "making the chips" where as with his album ‘Razorlight’ he was, "drinking chanpagne". Fair enough. While putting your ultra-produced and mega-polished super-album up against a handful of acoustic scratchings turned out by a kid barely out of problem skin may not seem the boldest move, yeah, it can safely be assumed that the majority of people would rather hum along to, "O oo oo, America," rather than, ‘Man of Constant Sorrow’. Congrats.
Anyway, the point here is that Dylan’s first album was merely his testing the waters of song craft, and, while there was the occasional flash of musical genius or a lyrical flourish, these were merely intended to pave the way for the greater things to come, loading the canon of songs that would inspire and shape the way songwriters would create their art for generations to come. So, this brings us to the problem of Dan Mailer.
Mailer’s album consists of eleven tracks that pretty much play as one, a furiously-strummed acoustic guitar supported by an occasional harmonica lilt, with Mailer spitting out proclamations and protestations as deft and arcane as, "Your smile warms me up, like a good winter stew." I mean, really. He could not be more in thrall to early 60s-era Dylan if he permed his hair and called himself Woody. This begs the question, if you’re going to rip an artist off, why not pick the good records?! Seriously, nick a Hammond organ riff, start every song with the crack of a snare drum, Christ, get off with Patti Smith but for God’s sake don’t turn out this acoustic drivel and think that through imitation you are in anyway flattering your idol!
There’s no doubt that some people will enjoy Mailer’s album, probably those who were always put off by Dylan’s nasal whine and would rather hear a more aurally soothing version of his early repertoire. The songs are catchy, full of little anti-hooks and soft choruses that you can very easily find yourself tapping your foot to and as Mailer shows on the opening track’s musical interlude, boy, can he play harmonica. However, for those who have grown up with Dylan in their life, who truly understand his importance in popular culture and the appreciate the difference that Robert Zimmerman has made to so many lives, it is doubtful that this pale silhouette of their hero will stand up to their musical standards; unfortunately, these are the people whom Mailer will be looking to impress the most.