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!
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
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 10 September 2012
71 years old, 35 albums in and with a voice all but completely shot to pieces Bob Dylan still towers over the musical landscape with his creative powers seemingly undimmed.
Whilst not quite the flawless masterpiece trumpeted in other quarters it's his best since "Love and Theft" and, whichever way you look at it, a fine album.
"Duquesne Whistle", a breezy train song, kicks things off in a deceptively sprightly toe-tapping style. Like much of the album, though, its lyrics pack a real punch, something often noticeable by its absence from his last couple of regular outings. There are unexpected twists and turns, changes of direction and sharp one-liners all over the record. At times it seems we're almost in Tom Waits territory, with songs peopled by ever more eccentric characters in increasingly strange situations.
Dylan has never been one to watch the clock. Half of the tracks here exceed seven minutes in length and an Irish sea shanty of a title-track stretches to 14 minutes and fills some 45 verses (count `em), with nary a chorus to be found. The centrepiece of the album, it represents his own personalised take on the sinking of the Titanic, part history, part imagination, but replete with horrific and even murderous images. Lyrically, it's one of Dylan's most powerful works of late, although opinions will differ as to whether it might not have benefitted from a bit of judicious editing.
"Tin Angel" is an effective murder ballad concerned with an ill-fated love triangle, bringing to mind The Raconteurs' "Carolina Drama", "Pay In Blood" a pretty standard mid-paced rocker, the elegant banjo-flecked "Scarlet Town" drifts gently along whilst Dylan's most emotional performance on the record is reserved for the dark "Long And Wasted Years", mostly spoken rather than sung and underpinned by a memorable descending guitar riff.
"Roll On John", his no doubt well-intentioned tribute to John Lennon sparks but never quite catches fire.
And then Dylan goes all Muddy Waters on "Early Roman Kings", proclaiming "I ain't dead yet, my bell still rings." That much is clearly evident.
on 10 September 2012
Across the album, The Tempest is more melodic, stylistically diverse and Bob's voice more varied than I'd been expecting given many reviews. Bob can still tell a great story and for me the length of individual songs is both fine and necessary. And yes, Blonde on Blonde and Blood On The Tracks do come to mind in places too. Even so, to my ears it also sounds fresh and there are no signs of treading water.
But top tip to some folks out there, don't take it all quite so seriously. There is plenty of humour in here and it is by no means just Hell and Methuselah. Resist the temptation to analyse it to death and just enjoy it for what it is - a great Dylan album.
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.
on 17 October 2012
This is, without doubt, the best Dylan album to be released in decades. Most of his albums that I have bought in recent years have had one or two good tracks on, such as "Highlands" and "Mississippi", but most of the tracks have been consigned to my mp3 collection with just the occasional play. This was different. Just like some of his earlier offerings I have played the entire album over and over again, allowing the words and music to seep into my conciousness. I've also searched the web for the lyrics, thought about the words, looked for, and perhaps found some hidden meanings - everything you should do with a Dylan album; and probably this is the first time since "Blood on The Tracks" that I have really been excited by a new Dylan offering. Strange really, considering his voice is shot and the music goes back to the 30s and 40s. Of course with Dylan it is the combination of the lyrics and the way he delivers them (cracked voice notwithstanding) combined with music which always seems to be exactly right.
Although many critics would disagree, I regard "Tempest" as the best track on this album. Although it has a very simple melody, comprises 45 verses, and lasts for around 14 minutes, without a single instrumental break, it is hypnotic and as soon as it finishes you want to hear it again. It tells the story of the sinking of the Titanic, but as as you would expect with Dylan there is a lot of ambiguous subtext, partly revolving around early American folklore. Also, as with several other tracks on the album this one borrows heavily from other old folk songs. In this case it is The Carter Family's "Titanic", from which he has not only used the same tune, but in some verses, almost identical lyrics. Similarly "Scarlet Town" lifts words straight out of the folk song of the same name and "Tin Angel" uses the same theme and a couple of (slightly changed) lines from "Black Jack Davy". This is done so blatantly, that it can't be accidental, or lazy, but instead is more likely intended to be a wink to his critics who have been accusing him of plagiarism in recent years. These thinly veiled refrences also show his great respect for early Americana and keeps the music alive and moving on.
This is a very dark album with murders, disasters, strange places and always an undercurrent of menace. It is very difficult to compare this with any of his previous albums, and the nearest comparison I can think of is some of the marvellous work created by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. Nick Cave has always been influenced by Dylan and now the influence has been reflected, amplified and bounced back.
In summary: one of his best.
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.
on 4 October 2012
A lot of mixed reviews here I see, with more than a few angry words spoken. Well, horses for courses but here's my appraisal. Not going to anlayse or philosophise about the lyrics too much, this is just what one long-time Dylan fan (since I was 19 when Infidels came out) thinks:
Duquesne Whistle Joyful tune, inoffensive lyrics, derivative for sure but what music isn't? 8/10
Soon After Midnight Nice tune and moving lyrics. A personal favourite,hard to resist 9/10
Narrow Way I thought this musically tedious at first (like a couple of the Modern Times tracks) but then I played it loud and listened to the lyrics! Not bad 7/10
Long And Wasted Years Not bad, not great 7/10
Pay In Blood Good lyric, this one is a grower. 8/10
Scarlet Town Strong all round, captivating 9/10
Early Roman Kings Good lyric, boring musically (sorry!) 6/10
Tin Angel Another good lyric, bit repetitive like a few others here but not bad at all 7/10
Tempest This about the Titanic, 100 years on. Bob at his story telling best with a simple but memorable melody. Such imagery. It's long..but so is Joey and I'm not complaining. This one seems to have divided opinion among afficiandos but to me this is awesome 10/10
Roll On John Well I'm biased here, not a great song but so glad that he has written a song for JL. Sentimental value 8/10
Of course there have been some dodgy Dylan albums over the years. I concede that LJ Thomson! Empire Burlesque, Knocked Out Loaded, Down In the Groove from the mid 80s to name but three. But since and including 'Time Out of Mind' (1997) Bob has mainly surpassed expectations for a man of his age. Who'd have thought that ANY of his recent tracks would rank alongside his 60s/70s peak? (see my other reviews for some of that!).
This is not as good as Blood On The Tracks or Blonde On Blonde or Street Legal or even Nashville Skyline. But then why should it be? It's still mighty fine..to these ears anyway. Worth the admission price for the title track alone. Last weekend even my 12 year old son even got into this album, particularly the epic title track, having poo-pooed Dylan for as long I can remember :- )
Not one of Dylan's contempories has produced such much quality output in the last 10 to 15 years. Roll on Bob..
on 21 January 2013
There is absolutely nothing negative to say about this CD. Bob at his best is all I can say. The final track "Roll on John" brings tears to my eyes.
I would recommend this to people who are not used to listening to bob Dylan.
I think they will be pleasantly surprised.