- Special Features
- Blogs & Columns
- Fun & Games
Bob Dylan never relaxes for a minute. He's constantly touring and manages to release a new studio album or an addition to his Bootleg Series every other year, despite the fact that he's now 71. His 35th studio album, Tempest, hits store shelves Tuesday, but it's been up on iTunes streaming for free since this Tuesday. It is his first original album since 2009's Together Through Life (and first studio album since the oddball Christmas in the Heart, released later that same year). To me, Together Through Life felt like a throwaway record, something recorded to keep Dylan busy in the studio and give him some new stuff to perform live. Sure there were some standout tracks, but it is nowhere near the achievements that Love &Theft (2001) and Modern Times (2006) were.
For Tempest, Dylan takes the best of both worlds, mixing more serious tracks with lighter material, but an overall dark tone runs throughout the entire album. The record kicks off with “Duquense Whistle," a wonderful track and easily one of the standouts. It feels like it's related to something like “Midnight Special,” so you know right away that the mix of Country, Blues and Jazz that has been a part of Dylan for the past decade hasn't left.
“Soon After Midnight” is a nice bluesy shuffle, while “Narrow Road” is a little bit more harder-edge, as if it just escaped from Love & Theft. There's actually quite a few hilarious lyrics in this track and, as a whole, this album has the kind of humor that has been missing from Dylan records lately.
From then on, Tempest takes odd twists, flirting with surprising violence in “Tin Angel” and takes us to “Scarlet Town,” a place one never really wants to go based on Dylan's lyrics. Dylan's vocals only help add to the sense that is a different type of Dylan album.
He's playful with his voice and after 35 albums, he should know what it can do. On “Long and Wasted Years,” you can imagine the joy he had singing about somebody who wasted time and failed to fulfill promises. “I wear dark glasses to cover my eyes,” he sings. “There's secrets in them that I can't disguise. Come back baby, if I hurt your feelings, I apologize.” It's a fantastic set of lyrics with a wonderful performance behind them. Out of the joy in that track, the very next one, “Pay In Blood,” has an entirely different tone. Behind an active track, Dylan sings about punishment - “I'll pay in blood, but not my own” - with a dry vocal that sounds like he hadn't had a glass of water for a day before heading into the studio.
“Early Roman Kings” is also a surprisingly fun track, mostly thanks to David Hidalgo's searing accordion and Dylan's lyrics.
The most talked about and written about song on the album will be the title track, “Tempest,” a 14-minute song with no chorus about the sinking of the Titanic. Obviously, even Dylan needed to get in on the 100th anniversary celebrations. He even mentions Leo and his sketching (maybe he thought James Cameron's Titanic was a documentary?). It's a little hard to take serious after that, but there are some nice lines about the watchmen dreaming and the horror of the ship sinking. However, since the ship starts sinking about three or four minutes in, the rest gets a little dull. This song isn't “Desolation Row” or even “Ain't Talkin,'” neither of which felt as long as they really are.
Tempest finishes off with an odd John Lennon tribute called “Roll on John.” Yes, it's 32 years too late, but hearing Dylan sing lines from “A Day in the Life” and “Come Together” was worth the wait...I think. Overall, it's a little too saccharine for me, wrapping up the album in a nice little bow. Considering how dark the rest of the proceeding material was, the lyric “You burn so bright, roll on John,” might be a good way to end it.
Overall, Tempest is a nice addition to the cannon, coming on the 50th anniversary of his debut album. Dylan takes a new, darker twist with this album and it makes you wonder where he can take us next.
You can listen to the album for free on iTunes.