Tempest – Bob Dylan
Once upon a time I would be able to tell you the street date of an upcoming Dylan release and would bet I would be the first of my friends to purchase it. But the 1990’s and 2000’s became spotty for Dylan releases, both quantitatively and qualitatively. For every one “Modern Times” and “Time Out of Mind” there were two “Oh Mercy’s” and “Good As I Been To You’s.” But a few months ago I heard rumblings that not only was Dylan releasing an album of fresh new music, but that it was to be his most “religious” album thematically since “Shot of Love.”
My interest was piqued.
This week Dylan released his 35th album, “Tempest,” and delivered an epic album an so many levels. It is both epic in length with only two of the ten songs coming in under four minutes and the inclusion of a 13-minute tour de force.
It is folky, sweet and swinging music filled with dark, somber and deeply moving lyrics. yes, it is Dylan’s most religiously tinged project since the trilogy (Slow Train Coming, Saved, Shot of Love), but no more so than the brilliant “Infidels.” In fact, it is the latter album that this current release reminds me the most of. Not so much musically as lyrically. There are clear evangelical imagery, mixed with human frailty and the darker sensibilities of Dylan’s best.
Most enjoyable is the interplay between human emotions, sexual tensions and spiritual phrasings. Initially some may find this merging confusing or uncomfortable, but it is what makes the album so intriguing and compelling. It does not drag you to the bedroom kicking and screaming, it dances with you slowly and leads to the bed. There is nothing commercial here and don’t expect to hear the album much on radio.
I do not want to spoil the wonderful wordplay here, I only suggest you pick it up and discover it for yourself. The true brilliance is the lack of context of common phrases. What I mean by that is Dylan’s penchant for using a common spiritual phrase to describe that which is carnal and using carnal phrases to describe that which is deeply, authentically spiritual.
The only song I want to bring up is the epic title track. At first one is wondering where the song is going, but by the end wishing it would continue. It is my favorite Dylan ballad since “Every Grain of Sand.” The song uses painful human experiences like the sinking of the Titanic to describe the human condition and need for hope, mercy and grace. Its brilliance is in the simplicity and the emotional impact more than crafty words.
This first review of the blogs new direction is a clear choice for an album that will appear in any upcoming, comparable list.