Bob Dylan – Tempest
“I’ve only written four songs in my whole life, but I’ve written those four songs a million times”. Thirty five albums in and that statement has never been more apparent. The blend of rockabilly, country and blues – three styles that predate even Dylan’s fifty year career – is hardly cutting edge. Yet these latest incarnations still seem fresh, asserting that the septuagenarian can reach an audience beyond the ageing Rolling Stone readership.
Anyone who has had the fortune to see him perform in the last few years will agree that the voice we recognise as Bob Dylan’s is long gone. When you consider his age and relentless touring schedule this is hardly surprising. However, the hoarse, gravelly character of his ruined larynx with his infamous nasally voice suits his current style down to the ground, giving him a timbre more akin to an old bluesman.
‘Tempest’ is a rather dark album with themes of murder, adultery, death and corruption. The whole record is lyrically dense and with an average track length of over six minutes, biographers and die-hard fans alike will be poring over these words for hidden meanings for years to come.
Standing at 14 minutes long, the 45 verse title track is a dramatized tale of events aboard the sinking Titanic, covering everything from brass fittings to Leonardo di Caprio, all parcelled into succinct stanzas. The sheer scale of the track is impressive and I’m sure many rhyming dictionaries died for the cause, but ultimately it does drag on a bit. Unfortunately, this is also the case for “Tin Angel” and “Scarlet Town”. Both slow numbers are lyrically poetic on paper, but neither track is dynamic enough to draw you in.
That said, the strength of this album lies with the more up-tempo material. The lead single “Duquesne Whistle” is a stomping bluesy number which opens with a lone pedal steel guitar and features the lyrical blues staples of trains and women. It’s lively and the most musically interesting of these tracks, and its darkly comic music video is worth a watch. “Narrow Way” is a bluesy rock n roll track reminiscent of the classic “Tombstone Blues”, but the stand out track on the album is “Pay In Blood” – a snarling midtempo number about politics, corruption and depravity. Dylan’s emotive, menacing delivery is full of venom and so raw that his voice breaks up under the intensity of his performance.
Unlike many of his older works, this album won’t change your life or revolutionise the music scene. However, standing alone, it’s a strong record which provides a vessel for Dylan’s ever impressive poetry. This certainly won’t be the last we hear of old Bob, and if he can continue to fuse his new style with the fervour of his older material then great things are still to come.