Graded on a Curve:
The Band,
Islands

Well here you have it: One of the saddest goodbye presents ever bequeathed to listeners by a beloved American band. True, The Band only released 1977’s Islands to fulfill its contractual obligations to Capitol Records, but that’s small solace to the unlucky fans who plunked down good money for this lackluster and beyond collection of odds and ends. The boys in The Band may not have been big on higher education, but the least they could have done was give it the old college try, if only out of a sense of duty to their legions of faithful followers.

I love The Band as much as anybody, more than my own (imaginary) children even, but this stinkeroo is strictly nowhereville. Not only is there not a single standout track on Islands, it includes only two songs I would ever consider listening to again.

How desperate were The Band to pad this baby out? They slapped a Christmas song on it. And, as if any further proof were needed that Robbie Robertson had dried up as a songwriter, we get the crass Robertson-Rick Danko collaboration “Street Walker,” which I would call the absolute low point of The Band’s career if it weren’t for the utterly vapid title track, an instrumental that can only be described as Yacht Rock Elevator Muzak.

On the positive side, you get… not much really. “Knockin’ Lost John,” on which Robertson inexplicably handles vocal duties, is pretty good. It would sound better with just about anybody besides the weak-voiced Robertson singing it, but I suppose the Band had their reasons. And Levon Helm’s Arkansas drawl kinda sorta redeems The Band’s otherwise underwhelming cover of the Homer Banks-Willia Dean Parker original “Ain’t That a Lot of Love.” After that, pal, this is one carnival you’re better off avoiding.

Hell, even Richard Manuel’s take on “Georgia on My Mind”–a trademark song he’d been singing for decades–sounds enervated and uninspired, due in large part to the fact that he’d ravaged his vocal cords through rampant alcohol abuse. As for “Right as Rain,” “Let the Night Fall,” “Livin’ in a Dream,” and “The Saga of Pepote Rouge,” the less said about them the better.

Islands is a demoralizing affair, and leaves a bitter taste in one’s mouth. The Band’s music means a whole lot to a whole lotta people, and if Islands fails to sully fond memories of the Band’s many great moments, it’s not for lack of trying. It’s a sign of just how sick of one another these guys were, and just how much Robbie Robertson’s muse had deserted him, that The Band managed to turn what might have been a valedictory affair into a joyless and perfunctory dud. Not only did they not go out with a bang–you can barely hear them whimper.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
D

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