This is Dylan's thirty fifth studio album, timed to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of his debut self titles recording way back in 1962. It follows on from an unbroken run of very strong albums stretching back to 1997's `Time Out Of Mind'. So what has his Bobness served up for his 50th anniversary? AS you might expect, this is nothing like an anniversary album any other artist might release. Instead of recovering old ground and celebrating past glories, Dylan is still making new and interesting music. Dylan is still utilising the country Americana sound that has served him so well on recent albums such as Modern Times, mixing blues, country, folk, and a maelstrom of other sounds into his melting pot. And this is just the background to his impressive singing. His voice sounds totally cracked now, a ragged and abused instrument. But it now conveys the emotion so much more effectively. The pain, the anger, the joy at simple pleasures in life.
In some odd ways this almost seems like a career retrospective - elements of the production make me think of `Street Legal', there is the country of `Nashville Skyline' days, there is an attempt at a religious overtone a-la `Slow Train Coming' and `Saved', there are the stream of consciousness story songs and a bit of anger at the world that could have come from his mod to late sixties work, all done in a style similar to his more recent albums, in fact, the only thing he doesn't pay homage to are his weak eighties albums.
For all Dylan's faults as a singer, I have to say that this is a joy to listen to. It's catchy and with some great lyrical imagery from the master of the form. It's an album from a man who is aware of his age, and of his place in history. But unlike albums form other ageing artists, such as the late career work of Johnny Cash or Tom Jones' recent albums, he does not seek to address his life or come to terms with his age, he just accepts things and carries on doing what he is doing. It's no vain hanging onto old glories such as Sinatra's late recordings, but this is a man who has new and interesting things to say, and has new and interesing ways in which to say them, much like Leonard Cohen. Long may it continue, and I look forward to hearing what he has to offer to mark 60 years in the business!
My only minor gripe is the packaging. The CD inlay is just a folded sheet of glossy paper with a couple of pics and a hard to read track list and musician list. No lyrics, words of wisdom from Dylan, nowhere near enough interesting pictures. And the cover art is a bit flat and uninspiring, especially compared to some of his recent albums. However, it is the music that is important (and Dylan obviously feels this) and that is superb. 5 stars for anther impressive album from Dylan.
After a few listens, 'Tempest' is starting to reveal itself as a more coherent and considered album than anything Dylan has come up with for decades. Thematically, its overarching concern is man's troubled journey towards oblivion. Yes, it's a 'death' album, but it's also a much more creative and poetic response to the theme than the doomy grumbling on 1997's 'Time Out of Mind'.
The obvious metaphor for our journey towards nemesis is the Titanic's doomed voyage on the title track, and this track is certainly the lynch-pin that holds the album together. But the Titanic's is not the only fatal Atlantic crossing on the album. 'Roll On John' ruminates on John Lennon's ill-fated passage across the sea from England; likewise in 'Narrow Way' the British cross the sea to inflict a "bleeding wound" on Washington by burning down the White House (a bleeding wound that is recalled by Leo's bleeding arm in 'Tempest'). There are other journeys too, similarly heading towards disaster. The Boss in 'Tin Angel' travels out to surprise his wife in flagrente, only for all three of the love-triangle to end up dead. Even the jaunty 'Duquesne Whistle' is from a train that's "on its final run", and whose eponymous whistle makes a sound as though "the sky's gonna blow apart" - just like "the universe opening wide" on 'Tempest' as the ship begins to sink. All through the album, Dylan seems to take grim delight in reminding us that we're all holding a one way ticket and, like the captain of the Titanic, when we stare the compass in the face, "the needle is pointing down". The agents of death are often occluded. There's no iceberg mentioned in the title song; likewise there's no namecheck for Chapman in 'Roll on John'. On 'Tempest', its seems, it's doom alone that counts.
If that's not enough bad news, Dylan has even colder comfort for us. The pleasures of the flesh are fleeting, transient, and maybe not really pleasures at all. 'Scarlet Town', with its "flat chested junkie whores", is a red-light district straight out of the mind of Hieronymous Bosch. 'Pay in Blood' has Dylan making love to "a bitch and a hag"; 'Long and Wasted Years' writes off the comfort of long-term relationships ("so much for tears, so much for these long and wasted years"), while the genuinely sexy sex that's hinted at in 'Tin Angel' ends in an inevitable bloodbath. In fact, transactional sex is quite a preoccupation on this album (too much life on the road, Bob?). We meet Charlotte the Harlot in 'Soon After Midniight' and Davy the brothel-keeper and his girls are among the Titanic's victims in 'Tempest'. "You may say I'm a pimp .. but I'm not", Bob reminds us on 'Duquesne Whistle'. But human blood will have its way: "I'm going to have to bury my head between your breasts", Dylan leers lasciviouly on 'Narrow Way'. 'Soon After Midnight' seems more romantic at first listen ("I've got a date with the fairy queen"), but it's maybe even darker. Who exactly is the narrator meant to be? Maybe there's a clue in 'Tempest', where "the veil was torn asunder between the hours of 12 and 1" - soon after midnight, in other words. Maybe the narrator on 'Soon After Midnight' is the Grim Reaper himself?
If there's no redemption in love and sex, it seems there's nothing for it for us poor mortals but to brutalise and violate each other while we make our brief voyage aboard the Ship of Fools. The many images on 'Tempest' of "brother turning against brother" are repeated in the scenes of violence and bloodletting that permeate the whole album. It's completely the Hobbes vision of man's life: nasty, brutish and short. Meanwhile political elites from the Early Roman Kings down through to the Sicilian Mafia are busy "pumping out the piss". Dylan's cynicism, contempt and despair for the world seem bottomless. Even God's will appears fathomless and arbitrary: "there is no understanding for the judgement of God's hand". "The angels turn aside" from the reaper's work on the Titanic, and in 'Pay in Blood' even death washes its hands of mankind.
The emptiness is endless? Maybe not. Bob has commented in interviews that he originally wanted to make a religious album, and maybe nested inside 'Tempest' there's still a hope of Christian salvation for the doomed of the world. There's certainly plenty of bread and wine scattered through the lyrics, not to mention blood and water. And ultimately perhaps it's only the blood of Christ that can redeem mankind from the apocalyptic horrors of the world, which 'Tempest' enumerates with such grim relish. Maybe that's why the narrator of 'Pay In Blood' is so cocksure and confident and he surveys the valley of death: his sins have already been redeemed by Jesus' ultimate sacrifice. He pays in blood, but not his own.
Of course, I could be barking up all sorts of wrong trees here. But that's half the fun of having a new Dylan album to grapple with. And, by any measure, 'Tempest' is a fine late-Dylan album. It stands shoulder to shoulder with 'Modern Times' and "Love and Theft" as a career-enhancing piece of work. It's extraordinary that Dylan is still creating at all in 2012. It's beyond extraordinary that he's still producing work of this calibre. Roll on, Bob!
on 6 December 2012
If not a Dylan fan and you stumbled on this album, you'd be most surprised how brilliant it is. As a Dylan fan, I know how great he is but this is his best album for a while. From playing for the first listen , this album just sucks you in and takes you on a journey that is a brilliant ride. Nobodyelse, and I mean nobody, can write such descriptive lyrics. They are classics - whitty, thought provoking, melancholy and uplifting. A must for every Dylan fan and for the first-timer, go on give it a try - you won't be disappointed.
Of the accumulated reviews of this new Bob Dylan album its difficult to find one that has not referenced that "Tempest" shares its name with Shakespeare's final play. With the great man into his 70's is the master musician leaving yet another tell tale sign? Let us exhort that this is not the case for on this form you can only plead that long may he run. Whatever Dylan's intentions the title is accurately appropriate since " Tempest" is a dark and often stormy affair notably containing a 14 minute and 45 verses long title song dedicated to the sinking of the Titanic where Dylan throws in some of his most vivid images, torrid tales and pale sorrow not least a Captain who "In the dark illumination, he remembered bygone years/He read the Book of Revelation, filled his cup with tears". It is wordplay of the highest order and actually names check Leonard DiCaprio to bring it all up to date.
The album kicks off with "Duqunese Whistle" sounding like a track from a honky tonk jukebox until Dylan's voice kicks in and commences an excellent railroad song which skips along at a fair old pace as the stations pass by. The lovely country lament "Soon after midnight" follows, so effortless and yet so right. The mood changes quickly for the near eight minute long "Narrow Way" a barbed electric guitar piece which rocks hard enough to performed in garages across the US. Dylan's last proper studio album was "Together through life" in 2009 (let us forget his yuletide abomination in that same year) and that suffered from serious sagging in the mid section (a problem for all men of a certain age). "Tempest" is closer to "Modern times" in this respect since every song fits and it's a solid set not least the excellent trilogy of songs from four to six. This comprises Dylan at his most reflective in the superb "Long and Wasted Years" where the master lyricist concludes that "we cried on that cold and frosty morn/we cried because our souls were torn so much for tears/so much for these long and wasted years". He is at his snarling best in the belligerent "Pay in blood" where his excellent road band provide great support. He also appears to tip a nod to Gillian Welch in "Scarlet town" which appears a distant cousin of the song on "The Harrow and Harvest". It's a great Dylan performance with that old gravelly voice sounding as vital as ever and strong to boot. Next up Muddy Waters "Mannish Boy" provides the backdrop to "Early Roman Kings" with a great David Hidalgo cantina-blues accordion providing the necessary earthy accompaniment. Dylan has always specialised in songs where vengeance is the unifying theme and "Tin Angel" couldn't be further removed from the Joni Mitchell love song of the same name sounding more like a Nick Cave murder ballad with its gory bloodshot finale. Having mentioned the albums huge "Titanic" narrative leaves us finally to touch on "Roll on John" a seven minute tribute to John Lennon starting with his assassination, referencing the Quarrymen, Hamburg and various sources of Beatles legend not least part of the lyric of "A day in the life". At this point it is this reviewers least favourite song on "Tempest" since if it wasn't composed by any one other than Dylan it could sound somewhat gauche and overtly sentimental. It is certainly does not match Paul Simon's "The Late great Johnny Ace" but it's a tender recognition of an old friend and proves that Dylan can be sweet hearted and nostalgic when needed.
This is Dylan's 35th studio album and stands as a firm equal to "Love and Theft" as his best album of the 21st century. We have no right to expect albums this good after all this time and the fact that he continues to confound, puzzle and challenge should be cause for rejoicing. 2012 looks like being the year of the veteran with great albums by Dr John, Paul Buchanan, Bill Fay and Leonard Cohen. And yet amongst all this excellence "Tempest" confirms Dylan's rightful pole position as the greatest storyteller in rock history
on 3 December 2012
On first hearing the opening track, I thought Dylan had gone all bluegrass and in my view this is probably the weaker track but that is being really picky about a cd crammed full of killer guitar rifts, wonderful melodies, killer lyrics and one liners all sung with a voice that sounds as though it has been matured in a Jack Daniels whiskey barrel and which Dylan has tailored perfectly to suit his material. And to cap it off a classic Dylan 14 minute story about the Titanic sung in waltz time filled with characters. And that's even before mentioning the 7 minute Scarlet Town. Wonderful!!.
on 14 October 2012
After reading previews and reviews of this album I was really looking forward to hearing it. I have really enjoyed some of the great man's later stuff......but not this. To me it seems dull and uninventive musically and lyrically with nothing (yet) that I would want to go back to repeatedly. But some of the reviews here say that it is a grower, and some are rapturous, so I may be missing something. I'll keep trying, but meanwhile the jury's out on this one I'm afraid Bob.
Dylan seems to be a very divisive musician - people seem to either love him or hate him. I'm in the former camp, but with reservations. His output over the years has varied greatly in quality and enjoyability, but you'll rarely find two Dylan fans who agree on which song is treasure and which is trash. Such a beast was his last album, Together Through Life (apart from the Christmas album, which I try not to count). I found it to be tired, lacking in ideas and, musically, redundant. Other Dylan fans will disagree, as it received its fair share of critical praise. This did mean that I wasn't exactly salivating with anticipation when I saw that Bob was releasing a new album this year, but, thankfully, Tempest is one of the best Dylan albums of the last couple of decades, certainly up there with Love & Theft, Modern Times and Time Out Of Mind. Unlike his last studio album of original material, Tempest sounds fresh, urgent and the lyrics have a sense of purpose and creativity. Of course, Bob's voice isn't getting any more youthful and the way he growls his way through the album will probably only ever appeal to Dylan fans, much in the same way Cohen or Waits polarise music lovers with their delivery. My favourite tracks include "Roll On John", a tribute to John Lennon which starts with his assassination and then goes on to reference so much of his remarkable life, the title track, "Tempest", a fourteen minute long epic poem set to music about the Titanic and the chugging, 1920s-influenced "Duquesne Whistle". It's all extremely good, though - not the best thing he has ever done, but certainly enough to restore my faith in his songwriting ability.
Some commentators have already pointed out that `The Tempest' was the final play Shakespeare wrote before his demise, and that by choosing the title `Tempest' for this album - his 35th in a 50-year recording career - His Bobness might, at age 71, be sending a discrete message to his global audience that he is planning to hang up his guitar for the last time.
More likely, the album's title holds no such cryptic meaning and Bob has no imminent retirement plans. `Tempest' employs a patchwork of musical styles broadly continuing the groove which characterize Dylan's previous four albums from `Time out of Mind' to `Together through Life' - his 21st century work and some of his very best, sometimes referred to as his "social security renaissance". The chosen musical forms often hark back to pre-rock-and-roll, jazz and rockabilly rhythms endowing them with a timeless folk-quality as though they might have been created anytime in the past 80 years and are difficult to date - kicking off with `Duquesne Whistle' on which Bob manages to sound like Louis Armstrong singing a number in the 1930s, over a thumping double-bass dominated rhythm.
Whilst lacking the deep personal poignancy found in such abundance on `Time out of Mind', `Tempest' is a dark album with serious themes. Bob continues on top form lyrically, and his singing voice is, if anything, slightly improved and on more melodic form than on recent recordings. His singing on `Scarlet Town' is particularly melodic as he croons out dark and menacing lyrics in a subdued minor-key.
The title track is a 14-minute epic of narrative story-telling with a dark, brooding theme musing on the Titanic shipwreck in 1912. Dylan delivers a 45-verse centenary tribute to those 1,500 lost lives over a subdued accordion and fiddle in a traditional sea-shanty style. It's laconic and poetic, and seeps into your soul only on the third or fourth listening.
The backing band (six musicians are credited but only five feature in the photo with Bob) are perfect for Dylan's timeless 21st century style, and ensure that while you listen to the lyrics, your feet will often be tappin' and your hips a-twistin'.
The package of the basic release is a pretty thin offering, with simple jewel case and single four-page insert with no song lyrics, the dominant colours black and deep maroon with red lettering; perfect packaging for future `deluxe' upgrades?
Let's hope this is not Bob's swan song, but there's life in the old dog yet. As he sings on `Early Roman Kings':
"I ain't dead yet
My bell still rings;
I keep my fingers crossed
Like the early Roman kings"
We keep our fingers crossed for you, Bob. Long may ye survive and thrive.
Only 48 hours since I got my mitts on it and I've already played Tempest through at least two dozen, magnificent, times. Both nights so far I've stayed up late, into the small hours, just to hear it once more before bed! I simply don't feel compelled to do that kind of thing with records by anyone else... which surely says more than any review can. Some people, here and elsewhere (see Alexis Petridis' review in the Guardian) have decried the already growing conventional critical wisdom that says Tempest stands comparison to some of Dylan's finest work. I say they're contrary for the sake of it and, for once, the conventional wisdom is dead right. Ok, in the grand scheme of Bob Cats I'm in the lower-leagues, but I've still heard 95% of everything he's done and am familiar enough with the official output to try and weigh up Tempest relative to what's come before. And I REALLY struggled to think when he last made a better album. In fact, I traced straight back to Time Out Of Mind, a great record and a close run thing but initial impressions are that this is the superior album. Oh Mercy (1989)? A personal favourite, but Tempest has the edge. In the end, I went back to Street Legal (1978) and got stuck, but that's probably got more to do with my own disproportionate affection for that particular LP. In any case, my way of thinking is that Tempest is Dylan's best album in at least thirty years, which sounds quite ludicrously hyperbolic given the calibre of what he's done in that time... but there you have it, that's my opinion. The critics are all going predictably nutzoid in full, analytic detail so I'll spare you any song-by-song breakdown save for saying that, for me, "Long And Wasted Years" (a bitter little song about a dead marriage) is the best of the shorter tracks here and "Tin Angel" is the cream of the five songs which exceed the 7 min. mark (this one being particularly chock-full of classic Dylan symbolism and hidden meanings). But the glorious truth of the matter is that each and every song here is extremely strong and not once have I found myself skipping forward. Which is a rare thing in itself. Conversely, what I have done -and this is surely one of those unofficial acid tests of a record's greatness- is find myself falling so immediately head-over-heels for a song after just one listen that as soon as it's ended I've hit repeat... and then I do it again, and again until its seared into my brain within only 2 days of owning the record. Very seldom indeed does that happen, but here it's true of about half the songs, which is just nuts. A final point about the voice... I remember with Love & Theft my dad joking that Dylan's voice was now "just phlegm". Well, it's sooooo much phlegmier now. But I can't help but just totally love it. I think I like it better than when he actually had an unspoiled larynx. It suits these latterday songs so well - all wry and world-weary. And when on "Long And Wasted Years" he sings: "What you doing out there in the sun anyway/Don't you know the sun can burn your brains right out?" he delivers that line like ... I dunno.... a 100 year old rattlesnake, and it's just... perfect. Oh boy, what a record!
on 1 November 2012
Firstly if you don't like Bobs ageing voice it might not be for you, personally I think it works well with the style. The standout track is the title track "Tempest" at 13 minutes it is brilliant. My only complaint would be there cd does not have the words which are important to Bobs work.