So, here’s the thing about me and Bob Dylan-I love him. We’ve had our differences over the years, but pretty much everything that he does I either enthusiastically adore or, at worst, enjoy. Hell, even “Lay Lady Lay” is better than 95% of any other artists music. So me saying that I think Tempest, Dylan’s newest record, is great is a bit like me saying breathing is great. For me, Dylan and oxygen are of equal importance. What I’m writing here isn’t really a review because that would mean that I went into the album objectively and based my affection for it solely on these 10 tracks. With Dylan, that is impossible.
And I don’t think it means much for me to praise his work unabashedly anyway. The guy has had so many awards and prizes thrown his way that he doesn’t even show up anymore unless the President of the United States asks him to come. The last time he had a big, critical and commercial success was his 1996 album Time Out Of Mind. Tempest is easily his best album since then. Love And Theft made a strong case, and it is definitely a really strong record, but it’s a bit light at times. Tempest doesn’t pull any punches.
The thing that puts Tempest above the more recent records like Modern Times and Together Through Life is the darkness surrounding the whole album. There’s also a good deal of anger on this record. It reminds me a lot of Tom Waits Bad As Me, which came out last year. It’s as if Dylan heard that album and said “Let’s not forget who’s runnin this game.” The song highlighting this idea is “Pay In Blood,” the albums fifth track.
Another politician, pumping out the piss
another angry begger blowin you a kiss
you’ve got the same eyes that your mother does
if only you could prove who your father was
someone must have slipped a drug in your wine
you’ve gulped it down and you crossed the line
man can’t live by bread alone
I pay in blood, but not my own.
The first time I heard the following track, “Scarlet Town,” I thought maybe it would be the one weak track on the album. Then I listened again and realized that this is really just an updated version of “North Country Blues.” The story is basically the same-the rich get richer while paying no attention to what their avarice is doing to the community around them. The electric guitar and violin work well together to create a foreboding atmosphere. They lyrics are some of the best Dylan has written in the last decade.
Set ’em Joe, play “Walkin’ the Floor”
Play it for my flat-chested junkie whore
I’m staying up late, I’m making amends
While we smile, all heaven descends
If love is a sin, then beauty is a crime
All things are beautiful in their time
The black and the white, the yellow and the brown
It’s all right there in front of you in Scarlet Town
A lot of people will focus on the title track, which is a fourteen minute fictional account of the sinking of the Titanic. For some reason Rolling Stone, or whoever got the scoop first, assumed that Dylan was name checking Leonardo DiCaprio in the song instead of assuming that he chose the name Leo because it rhymes with Cleo. Regardless the song is pretty good but doesn’t hold up to some of his previous epic efforts.
Like I said, this isn’t really a review so much as a few stray observations about the album. I love it. I think Tempest is his best work since his Grammy-winning Time Out Of Mind and will probably stand up against some of his best work when all is said and done. If you’re a fan you’ve probably already pre-ordered the record and if you aren’t you probably don’t want to start here.