Bob Dylan was born old, always obsessed with death and dying, even at a very young age…
Tuesday September 11th, 2012 will mark Bob Dylan’s 35th—depending on how you count it—studio album as well as 50 years as a recording artist with Columbia Records. Despite being 71 years young, the singer is most definitely firing on all cylinders, including promoting the new album, creating an Internet buzz with a sophisticated online roll-out and adding tour dates that extend into November to play his new songs live. There will also be “pop-up” stores in LA, NYC and London, selling the album one day early, on Monday Sept. 10th. Tempest is an album covered in blood, splattered all over the tracks. There is no hope left as this proves to be one of Dylan’s darkest albums ever.
The opening track and lead single “Duquesne Whistle” is by far the most upbeat song on the album. The steel guitar/whistle opening recaptures images of the old west and “hop aboard, take the trip..” sort of feel. I smiled wide when I first heard it but had no idea what I was in for throughout the rest of the album. One should enjoy the upbeat tone of “Duquesne Whistle” because after this song, you’re going to get nothing but madness, death and murder ballads, one liners, couplets, random observations, overheard expressions, inverted slogans, verses and images often set up in baffling opposition to one another. This album feels like a combination of “Ballad of a Thin Man” and “Desolation Row” to me, where nothing is as it seems and that is a very, very good thing for Bob Dylan music.
“Soon After Midnight” may start out like a simple, country love song but it is definitely not that. Especially when Dylan sings ““My heart is fearful/It’s never cheerful/I’ve been down on the killing floor.” The opening lyrics to “Pay in Blood” almost sound like screaming death metal as his first few words are basically inaudible. You can tell that there’s still plenty of fire left in his voice. Dylan’s voice here, although worn, torn and almost gone, does not bother me at all. It’s the lyrics and stories that matter to me because the delivery is still there. They’re very clear, even 50 years later…
The people who complain of his voice now are most likely the same people who didn’t like his voice in the 60′s-70′s either. “Another politician pumping out the piss,” he sings later, “You bastard, I’m supposed to respect you? I’ll give you justice.” No, I don’t think these are “protest” songs. Instead they are far-off perspectives, often leaving the listener to chose what they want to hear.
“Scarlett Town” is a new take on the traditional song “Barbra Allen” and yes, this is the same “Barbra Allen” that Bob once sang during his “Gaslight” appearances in NY, 1961. However, the “Scarlett Town” found on “Tempest” is something completely fresh.To see him revisit it in 2012 is simply stunning. “Help comes,” Dylan sings in Scarlet Town, “but it comes too late.”
Yes, “Early Roman Kings” is definitely based off Muddy Waters “Mannish Boy.” It’s the same riff/blues stomp.. but again, it’s the lyrics which shine for me. “They’re peddlers and they’re meddlers/They buy and they sell/They destroyed your city/They’ll destroy you as well.” It’s hard not to see the connections to modern America as Dylan growls, “I was up on Black Mountain the day Detroit fell.” When Dylan croaks “In their sharkskin suits, bow ties and buttons, with their high-top shoes…” it becomes a great summary of all imperial invaders, from all eras, both now, then and probably forever.
The title track “Tempest” is probably the song getting the most “buzz” online and whatnot. This is another new take on The Carter Family’s “The Great Titanic.” Here Dylan pulls off over 40+ verses (no chorus) and stretches the song into a 14 minute drowning ballad. David Hildago’s (Los Lobos) violin just hits me, right in the heart. It sounds exactly like a doomed sea shanty… This is my personal favorite song from the album. I don’t think it’s too long at all, just like “Desolation Row” or “Highlands.” I didn’t even notice the time pass: It stands still, completely still. Here, again..I don’t think he’s singing about The Titanic at all. It’s more a statement on modern America, bankers, OWS and much, much more.. I’m thinking the “Leo” DiCaprio references stem from James Cameron’s use of Dylan lyrics in the film “Titanic” but who knows? Either way, singing about it 100 years later, in 2012, seems most fit.
The last song on the album is called “Roll on John” and is basically a tribute to John Lennon. I think this is extremely touching, simply because you have them getting stoned together in the back of a limousine in the 60′s, moving to all of their conflict in the late 70′s early 80′s, with Dylan doing “Gotta Serve Somebody” and Lennon firing back with “Serve Yourself.” Here Dylan gives almost a blow-by-blow account of Lennon’s murder. Dylan sings of the physical experience of dying; “breathing his last.” “He turned around and he slowly walked away, they shot him in the back and down he went. Shine a light/Move along. You burn so bright/Roll on John.”
I can think only of two other seminal artists from the 60′s celebrating their 50th anniversaries this year, and neither are coming anywhere close to breaking the musical ground Dylan is tackling here on “Tempest” five decades later.
Some say The Beach Boys released their best album in decades with “That`s Why God Made The Radio.” With the exception of a few Brian Wilson gems, it`s a fairly nostalgic celebration of their 50th with a recapturing of the classic Beach Boys sound.
Then you have the Rolling Stones. In the same week that Dylan gives fans a new collection of 10 completely original and mostly outstanding tracks, the Stones announce that they’ll celebrate their 50th with yet another compilation of their 50 greatest hits along with two new tracks. I’m not impressed…
“There is not a bigger giant in the history of American music. All these years later, he’s still chasing that sound.” President Barack Obama said when awarding Dylan the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in May of 2012.
Tempest may or may not be Bob Dylan’s final studio album (he says it is not but nobody knows). I truly hope it is not. But if it is, you really couldn’t go out much better than this.
Thank you, Bob.
Order a copy of Tempest here: http://www.bobdylan.com/us/news/tempest
Music video by Bob Dylan performing Duquesne Whistle. Directed by Nash Edgerton. (c) 2012 Columbia Records, a Division of Sony Music Entertainment
Color in Motion Volume 176: Ekkehard Altenburger “Mirror House”,1996. Temporary installation on the Isle of Tyree,Scotland. http://www.altenburger.org.uk
Color in Motion Volume 175: Francois Morellet “L’Avalanche” . “L’Avalanche” (1996) is an installation of 36 neon tubes,by Francois Morellet (1926,Cholet Maine-et-Loire) . He has inspired the minimalist movement. However, he refused to be locked in the codes of austere contemporary abstraction, taking care to make a change, of mockery,including an interactive and often with the public, or a generative aspect. He exhibited his work again in Paris in 2011.