Thursday, 13 September 2012

Review: Bob Dylan - Tempest

 In the more elderly stage of his career and with enough of a legacy and influence on modern songwriting to last a generation and generations beyond this one, I always thought Bob Dylan didn't need to do any more albums and had instead retired to a life of playing shows where people criticized his voice and recording albums of Christmas songs. It would be fair enough, I still have a strong amount of love for the albums of his I own and still find new meanings in songs every time I listen, so like many people, I'll always view him in a high regard. But amongst all this, Dylan has found the momentum to record a thirty fifth studio album Tempest, which in itself is staggering. As it goes, the album is definitely a stronger work of Dylan's in recent times.

 Dylan certainly has no problem in luring listeners in to something that is simply pleasant, as the penned melodies for Tempest are some of the most uplifting he has ever constructed. On musical strength alone, it's impossible not to fall in love with the likes of the traveler blues swing of Narrow Way, the stomp along hooks of Roman Kings or even the blissful repertoires of the album's fourteen minute, forty five verse title track which flies by after you get caught up in the moment in which the song paints. With a vintage sounding production that is made to be put down and gather up more dust with every listen, that brings up real memories of Dylan's past, harking back to a time where he just chilled and played the blues, rather than made a difference in pop and rock music to come.

 But, with Dylan's credit as such an incredible wordsmith over the years, lyrics will always be the primary concern with his albums. Tempest, credited to be one of his weirdest album's ever goes places you you wouldn't generally expect from someone like Dylan. The technique of referring to song titles and lyrics of older bands has been done several times by today's big bands and the results have been rubbish for the most time, but when Dylan ends the album with Roll On John, a tribute to his late friend and legend to the world John Lennon, his quoting of Beatles lyrics ("Come together right now over me/ Lord you know how hard it can be" and his summation of hearing about Lennon's assassination by stating "I read the news today, oh boy.") could be seen as a fitting tribute by some people or as a lyrical cop-out by other. Yet, the fury of Pay in Blood in Dylan's vocals and lyrical rants when juxtaposed against a fairly charming backdrop is thrilling on it's own, as jeers of "Another politician pumping out the piss" and "You bastard, I'm supposed to respect you? I'll give you justice" are delivered with a vocal performance that is so ferocious and so real, it's difficult to understand how Bob Dylan can still keep this up.

 Well, I'm really terrible at identifying great lyrics and analyzing a folk album, but with an artist like Bob Dylan, you can always expect something golden to appear at some point and Tempest is no exception by any means. Dylan proves himself to be a showman with a real personality and a real passion, who isn't afraid to get over confrontational at times. While the songs on Tempest are by no means going to make their way ahead of the classics that he's spent five decades writing now, they are very much in their own league of class and beauty. And that is the way to look at them. They're evidence that in this day and age, amazing music can still be made with one man, an acoustic guitar and a brain of new ideas that cover much emotion. And if that's evidence that Bob Dylan to do anything other than play questionable shows and sing along Here Comes Santa Claus, that's inspiring enough for me.

Bob Dylan's Tempest is out now via Columbia.

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