Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Album Review- Bob Dylan -Tempest

Bob Dylan
** out of *****

With pre-album leaking of the fact that Bob Dylan would be releasing a new album that contained a 10+ minute opus on the Titanic it was fair to say this was the most anticipated Bob Dylan original studio release for a very long time.  Even after classic albums like Time Out Of Mind, Love and Theft and Modern Times, there seemed to be a greater sense of enjoying the present without looking forward much to the next release.  As Tempest shows this was probably a wise move, anticipating anything about the bard is utter folly.     

Dylan has slightly moved away from his late career style of throwing together smart/funny/prophetic couplets into standard 12-Bar-Blues numbers, mixing oldies with newbies so to speak, and gone back into more of a folk singer mode for this disk with songs that string together coherent stories/ideas.  The already mentioned "Tempest" deals with the Titanic and manages to bore almost from the get go becoming a weight around the neck of the album.  It never develops any real energy in the lyrics or the playing, which itself becomes a major issue with the album.

Musically speaking, Tempest is by far the weakest of his "comeback" albums (which now stretch back to Oh Mercy). The band behind Dylan is so nondescript and lacking, adding virtually nothing to the songs.  You will be hard pressed to find one musical number or phrase that stands out apart from the opening old-timey swagger of "Duquesne Whistle" which plays back into the 12-bar blues while shuffling the night away.  "Scarlet Town" is a 7 minute work that only deviates for a brief moment into an extremely mellow guitar solo, while the rest of the track repeats the same restrained musical phrasing over and over again.         

This musical mannerism (restrained repetition) seems to be the norm on the album the band stays very low key and repetitive with only minor flourishes.  "Early Roman Kings" plays an accordion over a "Mannish Boy" riff while "Narrow Way" is pretty stand-up bluegrass with electric violin and steel guitar.    

The two best tracks on Tempest are vastly different.  "Pay In Blood" is a defiant career spanning tune that at once feels vengeful and remorseful, taunting and empathetic.  It is classic Dylan over a swirling mix of piano, electric/steel guitars, bass and drums.  Disk closer "Roll On John" is an effecting, direct tribute to John Lennon.  The straight forwardness that Dylan writes and sings this song is a bit shocking, and powerful as he usually masks his songs topics.  Both tracks prove Dylan's talent will never leave him as they can stand with any in his catalog.    

Making it a point to never try to read too much into any lyrics it is tough not to notice Bob's aggressive fronting when it comes to the fairer sex in multiple songs. Using derogatory phrases like "Flat Chested Junkie Whore", "Bitch or a Hag" is sure going to raise some eyebrows, but critically it adds an lyrical edge that can be lacking here.  On the flip side he loves his "Heavy Stacked Woman" who is above him (probably both literally and figuratively) on "Narrow Way".  

Sure you can't compare artists to their former self (especially Bob), but we do it anyway and more recently in examining the late career output of Dylan, Tempest is closer to 2009's middle of the road release Together Through Life then the all-time classic Love and Theft.  The beautiful thing about Dylan though is we all see/hear/experience/live different things when we listen to his songs, that's why there is no one else like him.    
Anyone who reads RtBE knows our massive Dylan love, that said we can see faults in our hero, he is human and can't be perfect (even though some of his songs are). Tempest falls shorts on a few levels with just some boring tracks, the title track being the biggest culprit.

While Bob does sound more into his lyrics and singing then he has in the past the music backing is bland at best. Who knows maybe in 5 years RtBE will be singing more then just a few tunes praises, but for now we can't go much higher then 2 stars and without "Pay In Blood" and "Roll On John" it wouldn't have gotten those...very curious to see what songs if any he plays tonight at the Barclay's center.

We can talk about Dylan all day and sometimes do but we will end here.  You can find more info on the artist here, buy the album here, and check out a few songs below. 

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