ALBUM REVIEW: Bob Dylan – Tempest

Written for the 405

Or; How The Hell Are You Meant To Review a New Bob Dylan Album?

1. Be knowingly facetious

Apparently this guy’s some sort of “big deal,” not that you can tell from this album. This Bob Dylan guy sounds like one of those elderly contestants that shuffle onto The X-Factor that can’t actually sing very well, but you’re not allowed to say that because everyone is busy cooing over him in a patronising way. Anyway, much like said Cowell codgers, Dylan sings with a breathless (in the “I find it hard to breathe” way, not the sexy way) wheeze, and has a similar obsession with old-timey music that no-one listens to any more because it’s boring.

2. Be overly reverential

His Bobness is entering his fifth decade of making music and shows no signs of slowing – nor should we like him to! Tempest is the latest in his current mode of returning to the roots of rock ‘n’ roll.

Here he mines a little deeper than the Sun Records-inflected blues and rockabilly of his recent albums, excavating some Irish balladry on the epic title track, where he sings about the sinking of the Titanic, brilliantly including a meta-textual reference to James Cameron’s blockbuster motion picture, and dusting off the true roots of blues guitar music on the the haunting ‘Pay In Blood’.

3. Be truthful

It’s difficult to review an album by someone with such a pedigree as Bob Dylan. It’s difficult not to view this album in the light of his earlier, revolutionary work, as a folk singer who became a protest singer who became a sort-of beat poet in a rock band to a born-again Christian…

The truth is that Tempest, when viewed outside of all of that, is only ever an “okay” album. There’s a warm feel to the production and performances, even when Dylan is spitting some of his most violent lyrics (much of the album’s lyrical content is informed by the Bible, Shakespeare and American pulp fiction). Whenever a familiar musical trope crops up – for example, the band plodding through the most basic of twelve-bar blues arrangements on ‘Early Roman Kings’ – the knowledge of Dylan’s perceived genius creeps in, and one wonders excitedly “I wonder what sort of brilliant, bizarre Dylan-esque twist he’s going to put on this formula.” These twists never come.

Tempest is a mid-50s American folk/rock/blues album played entirely straight, Dylan simply recreating the sort of records he spun during hisTheme Time Radio Hour show. That’s not to say it’s a bad record – is it possible for him to make a bad record (or at least one worse thanSelf Portrait)? – and there’s certainly some evocative, lyrical imagery throughout, especially some of the distressing scenes described on the title track (although after fourteen minutes of the same musical backing and no chorus the impact of drowning children is, ahem, dampened). Then again, the less said about the schmaltzy, Lennon lyric-quoting eulogy ‘Roll On, John’, the better.

It’s not an amazing, revolutionary new Bob Dylan record, but really: when did we last get one of those? That’s a young man’s game. Dylan is doing exactly what he wants to, playing the sort of music he loves to listen to. Not counter-cultural, but proto-cultural. He’s probably enjoying himself, even if he’s not challenging us.

6/10

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