Bob Dylan is back

Bob Dylan has a new album, Tempest, and it sounds really, really good.  From Washington Post music critic  Chris Richards:

For his 35th studio album, “Tempest,” Bob Dylan wanted to write religious songs and ended up hopping a freight train to the apocalypse.

Couching images of end-times America in old-time American melodies, the 71-year-old has delivered his most compelling release in more than a decade. That’s faint praise for anyone who gave up on Dylan after the Carter administration, sure, but find me another rock demigod crafting tunes this violent in their golden years. You can practically hear the guy tapping his toes in puddles of blood.

But before Dylanologists had heard a bloody note of it, it was the album’s title that made them gasp. “The Tempest” is considered William Shakespeare’s swan song, which might mean that. . .

No, no. Dylan pointed out to Rolling Stone that Shakespeare’s “Tempest” was preceded by the word “the.” Dylan’s “Tempest” is just “Tempest.” Hadn’t one of the greatest lyricists in American song taught us anything about attention to detail?

Regardless, that retirement-rumor kiboshing comes as a relief, because Dylan has found some fresh gravitas in his withering voice. His pipes sound more trashed than ever, so he pulls right up to our ears, making these sinister songs feel eerily intimate. It was a tactic he hinted at with “Christmas in the Heart,” a collection of snarled holiday carols from 2009. The band keeps everything tender and mild while Dylan softly sneers something terrifying.

Listen for it on “Narrow Way,” a nimble jump-blues number that sounds like it survived a nuclear winter. “This is hard country to stay alive in,” Dylan rasps. “Blades are everywhere, and they’re breaking my skin.”

“Duquesne Whistle” employs a similar trick. It’s a classic American train song, its chirping steel guitars channeling hope and wanderlust. Dylan pushes so much wind through his throat that his voice starts to resemble the affectionate roar of Louis Armstrong. But instead of signaling the freedom of a fresh start, this train whistle is “blowing like the sky’s gonna blow apart.”

It gets better, which means it gets worse.

“Tin Angel” recounts a love triangle that ends in gunshots and stab wounds. “Early Roman Kings” takes the 1 percent on a bluesy, five-minute frog march. And over the patter of “Pay in Blood,” Dylan yanks a refrain from his pocket and flicks it open like a rusty switchblade: “I pay in blood, but not my own.”

via - The Washington Post.

I’ve got to get this one.  I’m curious about the characterization of these violent tunes as “religious songs.”  (See this for a discussion of the album’s Christian themes.)  Has anyone heard this album yet?  You can buy it here:

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    It’s hard for me to listen to Dylan do his own songs; I’d rather hear somebody else like Hendrix or even GnR do them.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    It’s hard for me to listen to Dylan do his own songs; I’d rather hear somebody else like Hendrix or even GnR do them.

  • http://acroamaticus.blogspot.com Pr Mark Henderson

    He never went away.

  • http://acroamaticus.blogspot.com Pr Mark Henderson

    He never went away.

  • Pete

    Tempest is more Dylan – a tsunami of loosely connected phrases (“I got a head full of ideas that’re driving’ me insane”) delivered with a croaking growl that somehow come together into something really good. Aged Dylan – fine wine. It’s good but I’m not sure it tops his two great recent offerings – Together Through Life and Time Out Of Mind. It’ll take about 500 listens to sort that out.

    To J Dean @1 – Hrmph. (Although, have you heard the Dave Matthews version of “All Along The Watchtower”?)

  • Pete

    Tempest is more Dylan – a tsunami of loosely connected phrases (“I got a head full of ideas that’re driving’ me insane”) delivered with a croaking growl that somehow come together into something really good. Aged Dylan – fine wine. It’s good but I’m not sure it tops his two great recent offerings – Together Through Life and Time Out Of Mind. It’ll take about 500 listens to sort that out.

    To J Dean @1 – Hrmph. (Although, have you heard the Dave Matthews version of “All Along The Watchtower”?)

  • Pete

    @ our esteemed host

    What’s this “Bob Dylan is back” dreck? Where’d he go?

  • Pete

    @ our esteemed host

    What’s this “Bob Dylan is back” dreck? Where’d he go?

  • Julian

    I’ve heard “Duquesne Whistle” on the radio a couple times. It’s alright. It’s definitely a train song. I almost wondered a couple times if he lifted the melody from “City of New Orleans”.

    I must also comment on the intrinsic humor in the first line of this post “Bob Dylan has a new album, Tempest, and it sounds really, really good” vs. the last line, “Has anyone heard this album yet?”.

    Usually the subjective experience precedes the opinion.

  • Julian

    I’ve heard “Duquesne Whistle” on the radio a couple times. It’s alright. It’s definitely a train song. I almost wondered a couple times if he lifted the melody from “City of New Orleans”.

    I must also comment on the intrinsic humor in the first line of this post “Bob Dylan has a new album, Tempest, and it sounds really, really good” vs. the last line, “Has anyone heard this album yet?”.

    Usually the subjective experience precedes the opinion.

  • cruxsola

    Dr. Veith…..according to an interview I read last month, Dylan said he wanted to do a “religous” album but he didn’t have enough songs.
    This album is what he released instead.

  • cruxsola

    Dr. Veith…..according to an interview I read last month, Dylan said he wanted to do a “religous” album but he didn’t have enough songs.
    This album is what he released instead.

  • cruxsola

    @ Pete (#3) I would add Modern Times to that list of current Dylan gems.

  • cruxsola

    @ Pete (#3) I would add Modern Times to that list of current Dylan gems.

  • Steve Billingsley

    The thing with Dylan is he is just impossible to categorize or figure out. At the end of the day you just have to take him as he is and enjoy what you get.

    I have heard a couple of songs (“Duquesne Whistle” is really good)

    The better experience is seeing him live. He travels with a ridiculously good band and really gives you a good show. Good stage presence and actually interacts with the crowd more than you would think.

  • Steve Billingsley

    The thing with Dylan is he is just impossible to categorize or figure out. At the end of the day you just have to take him as he is and enjoy what you get.

    I have heard a couple of songs (“Duquesne Whistle” is really good)

    The better experience is seeing him live. He travels with a ridiculously good band and really gives you a good show. Good stage presence and actually interacts with the crowd more than you would think.

  • conquererw@fastmail.fm

    i’ve read his latest interview, sad, he uses vulgar, vile language in the same sentence where he uses the name of the Lord. i’m tired of “christians” like him and bon(z)o who profess to be believers and in the same act in vile way…

  • conquererw@fastmail.fm

    i’ve read his latest interview, sad, he uses vulgar, vile language in the same sentence where he uses the name of the Lord. i’m tired of “christians” like him and bon(z)o who profess to be believers and in the same act in vile way…

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    ConquererW (@9), if you’re referring to the Rolling Stone interview, you’re wrong on a technical level. It wasn’t in the same sentence, nor was it the “name of the Lord”. He used the word “Lord” in the sentence before he said a vulgar word.

    But I find it interesting that, on the basis of his saying that word, you feel able to conclude that he’s not really a Christian (and thus the scare quotes).

    Seems clear to me that a legalistic attitude as you display here is far more damaging to one’s faith than is the uttering of this or that particular word.

    But then, as so often happens, legalism is accompanied by hypocrisy. You decry his use of “vile” language, yet then not only mock a different (and irrelevant) man’s faith, but also imply he is a clown. Maybe you need to reread Matthew 5:22, to say nothing of the Eighth Commandment.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    ConquererW (@9), if you’re referring to the Rolling Stone interview, you’re wrong on a technical level. It wasn’t in the same sentence, nor was it the “name of the Lord”. He used the word “Lord” in the sentence before he said a vulgar word.

    But I find it interesting that, on the basis of his saying that word, you feel able to conclude that he’s not really a Christian (and thus the scare quotes).

    Seems clear to me that a legalistic attitude as you display here is far more damaging to one’s faith than is the uttering of this or that particular word.

    But then, as so often happens, legalism is accompanied by hypocrisy. You decry his use of “vile” language, yet then not only mock a different (and irrelevant) man’s faith, but also imply he is a clown. Maybe you need to reread Matthew 5:22, to say nothing of the Eighth Commandment.

  • Pete

    cruxsola @7

    I guess. “Modern Times” didn’t grab me like TOOM or TTL. Nothing on MT as potent as “Mississippi” or “Trying’ to Get to Heaven” or “Jolene” or “Beyond Here Lies Nothing”. IMHO. The ensemble of MT lacked the cohesion that TTL or even this new one has.

  • Pete

    cruxsola @7

    I guess. “Modern Times” didn’t grab me like TOOM or TTL. Nothing on MT as potent as “Mississippi” or “Trying’ to Get to Heaven” or “Jolene” or “Beyond Here Lies Nothing”. IMHO. The ensemble of MT lacked the cohesion that TTL or even this new one has.

  • CRB

    I received the album as a birthday present and, IMO, it is one of the best he’s done in years. The song, “Tempest”, about the sinking of the Titanic is pure genius!! Went to see him last month and enjoyed the show. True, it was difficult for some younger folks to understand his words, but I remember the words of most of the songs he did and have to say, the man “ROCKS!”

  • CRB

    I received the album as a birthday present and, IMO, it is one of the best he’s done in years. The song, “Tempest”, about the sinking of the Titanic is pure genius!! Went to see him last month and enjoyed the show. True, it was difficult for some younger folks to understand his words, but I remember the words of most of the songs he did and have to say, the man “ROCKS!”

  • cruxsola

    Pete @ 11
    what about “Spirit On The Water” and “Workingmans’ Blues #2″
    and “Beyond The Horizon” and “Nettie Moorea” and most of all “Ain’t Talkin” and…..?
    I guess I just like Modern Times.

  • cruxsola

    Pete @ 11
    what about “Spirit On The Water” and “Workingmans’ Blues #2″
    and “Beyond The Horizon” and “Nettie Moorea” and most of all “Ain’t Talkin” and…..?
    I guess I just like Modern Times.

  • Pete

    cruxsola@13

    You’re right – those are all good, particularly “Workingman’s Blues”. For some reason, I just think it’s overshadowed by most of his other recent ones. It’s another cool thing about Dylan – the whole “let’s rank his albums” thing. Nobody ever agrees.

  • Pete

    cruxsola@13

    You’re right – those are all good, particularly “Workingman’s Blues”. For some reason, I just think it’s overshadowed by most of his other recent ones. It’s another cool thing about Dylan – the whole “let’s rank his albums” thing. Nobody ever agrees.

  • cruxsola

    Pete @ 14

    No agreement on ranking Dylan’s best albums? This is most certainly true!
    Going back a little further in recent or semi-recent work….
    Oh Mercy! from 1989. A great album, very good songs loaded with biblical references. One reviewer called it the “Calvinist Dylan” album. I highly recommend.

  • cruxsola

    Pete @ 14

    No agreement on ranking Dylan’s best albums? This is most certainly true!
    Going back a little further in recent or semi-recent work….
    Oh Mercy! from 1989. A great album, very good songs loaded with biblical references. One reviewer called it the “Calvinist Dylan” album. I highly recommend.

  • Julian

    Just heard the title track on the radio today. Comparing it to my favorite long-form Dylan track, “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”, the difference is striking.

    I have not followed Dylan through his career, and I only know the hits, and “Blonde on Blonde”. However, it its noticeable how different the songwriting was back in the day. “Tempest” is pure narrative, while “Sad Eyed Lady” is metaphor upon metaphor.

    Anybody more familiar with Dylan know if he just got more didactic as he got older, or what?

  • Julian

    Just heard the title track on the radio today. Comparing it to my favorite long-form Dylan track, “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”, the difference is striking.

    I have not followed Dylan through his career, and I only know the hits, and “Blonde on Blonde”. However, it its noticeable how different the songwriting was back in the day. “Tempest” is pure narrative, while “Sad Eyed Lady” is metaphor upon metaphor.

    Anybody more familiar with Dylan know if he just got more didactic as he got older, or what?

  • Tim

    Dylan is getting clearer and clearer where is faith lies. The Lord is now ‘Our Lord’. He ‘pays in blood, but not his own…’ ‘Dylan, Depression and Faith’ was saying this 2 years ago – that he is a Jewish believer in Jesus. He quotes from both the Old and New Testaments, and the Book of Revelation gets another mention in the title track ‘Tempest’..

  • Tim

    Dylan is getting clearer and clearer where is faith lies. The Lord is now ‘Our Lord’. He ‘pays in blood, but not his own…’ ‘Dylan, Depression and Faith’ was saying this 2 years ago – that he is a Jewish believer in Jesus. He quotes from both the Old and New Testaments, and the Book of Revelation gets another mention in the title track ‘Tempest’..

  • CRB

    Tim,
    I just bought the cd and was puzzled by that line: “He ‘pays in blood, but not his own…’ I belive that’s rather confusing, if Dylan is referring to our Lord because He indeed paid with His own blood.

  • CRB

    Tim,
    I just bought the cd and was puzzled by that line: “He ‘pays in blood, but not his own…’ I belive that’s rather confusing, if Dylan is referring to our Lord because He indeed paid with His own blood.

  • TimTH

    ‘Duquesne Whistle’: “I can hear a sweet voice gently calling, must be the mother of our Lord …” Dylan has taken to referring to Jesus as ‘our Lord’ rather than simply as ‘the Lord’.
    ‘Pay in Blood’: “I’ve sworn to uphold the laws of God, you can put me out in front of a firing squad … Man can’t live by bread alone, I pay in blood, but not my own …”
    Dylan is communicating the fact that it is Christ’s blood that pays for the sins of the world, not the blood of any mortal man. Dylan pays (for his sins) in blood – but it is not his own blood. It is Jesus’ blood. See ‘Dylan. Depression and Faith’.

  • TimTH

    ‘Duquesne Whistle’: “I can hear a sweet voice gently calling, must be the mother of our Lord …” Dylan has taken to referring to Jesus as ‘our Lord’ rather than simply as ‘the Lord’.
    ‘Pay in Blood’: “I’ve sworn to uphold the laws of God, you can put me out in front of a firing squad … Man can’t live by bread alone, I pay in blood, but not my own …”
    Dylan is communicating the fact that it is Christ’s blood that pays for the sins of the world, not the blood of any mortal man. Dylan pays (for his sins) in blood – but it is not his own blood. It is Jesus’ blood. See ‘Dylan. Depression and Faith’.

  • CRB

    TimTH,
    Thanks for that book reference, wish that that Amazon had it on their Kindle!

  • CRB

    TimTH,
    Thanks for that book reference, wish that that Amazon had it on their Kindle!

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