Bob Dylan’s Tempest 35th Studio Album Not His Best

When does genius run thin and how do we praise the artist?

Exhibition “Bob Dylan by Jerry Schatzberg” Galerie Dina Vierny, Paris (photo Elian Chrebor creative commons some rights reserved)

Bob Dylan is a genius artist on the same level as Picasso. His talent is momentous, his style mercurial legendary and his works approached with some reverence.

Which explains why I have writer’s block making any comment on his latest studio album “Tempest”.  It is just not up to the standard of his greatest works, inspite of all the gushy reviews published in the media.

Everyone knows I am a Dylan fan since “Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’. I have every album, CD, video, bootleg, and some three times to have each version (vinyl, CD, SACD, VHS, DVD, etc). I’ve read more than 30 books and learned to play 100s of Dylan songs. I also know some albums take decades to appreciate.

That being said, “Tempest” does not seem like a great Dylan album.  His voice is almost gone and the songs just don’t have the appeal and feel of his greatest works.

Perhaps “Tempest” will be like a great Picasso painting from his later period, the grotesque depiction of an old gnome lusting after younger women.

Things start off well enough with the catchy “Duquesne Whistle” which got a cinematic gritty video treatment.

The second song on “Tempest” is “Soon After Midnight” where Dylan croons,

“I’m searching for phrases, To sing your praises,
I need to tell someone,
It’s soon after midnight,
And my day has just begun” (words copyright Bob Dylan)

Then Dylan lets you know his needs have also been serviced by some gal who took his money and assorted harlots and night people. Dylan covered the nightscapes before in “Visions of Johanna” and “Desolation Row” but with more finesse and artful language.

There isn’t much new musically, since most of the melodies are lifted from old blues or Celtic riffs. And the songs go on far too long. The last 5 songs on the CD are 7, 5, 9, 14 and 7 minutes long.  Dylan has written long songs before but most of them held your attention. On “Tempest” they just don’t. One reviewer said he wanted to go for lunch or out for a walk, which is a humorous take on the over-long material.

At the mid-point of listening to “Tempest” my mind was long gone. I had to force myself to listen to the second half to make sure I wasn’t missing something great. My wife’s comment was succinct “Not as good as “Modern Times” and turned it off when I left the room.

The 14 minute long recitation of the Titanic story in the “Tempest” title song is boring. What’s new in Dylan’s repetitive narration of the tale? Nothing and the weak tune doesn’t carry the song.

It’s great that Bob Dylan is still recording new material at 71 years old but the entertainment value does not seem to be there on “Tempest”.

Only time will tell if the 10 songs get elevated in public and critical opinion.

I will freely admit this is a minority opinion. However, once you get past the hype in the headlines of the media reviews, you’ll find similar appraisals albeit couched in code since Dylan is a national treasure.

By Stephen Pate, NJN Network

 

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6 Comments

  1. There is already, as there always is when BD has a new record out, a load of reviews like this:
    1) I am longtime, huge Dylan-fan and has all his records and so on
    2) Everybody else is raving about the record, but is it really that great? and so on
    3) No his voice is long gone, as we all know,
    4) This one doesn’t compare to the greatest song on his greatest 60s records (with Blood on the Tracks sometimes thrown in for good measure, although it’s not done here; but it’s a fair guess that the reviewer would prefer “Meet me in the morning” all day and all night to late Dylan roars like Lonesome Day Blues, Thunder on the Mountain, My Wife’s Hometown and Narrow Way; it seems inconceivable that anybody might want it the other way round)
    5) So, the new record is disappointing and boring and as soon as the hype is gone, this minority opinion will probably prevail
    – But who cares about the right opinion, minority or majority, here? Maybe there are reviewers out there who say ‘oh this is great’ because they want it to be great, but if you ask them they don’t really think so. How probable is that? Not impossible. But it is more probable that they actually think it’s great. To find expression for their enthusiasm they go to all sorts of lengths, comparing the record to the great works of the past (‘best since’-style) and so on. And so what? They’re searching for phrases to sing their praises. Bottom line is: Quite many people, whether majority or not, and regardless of “wives” who prefer Modern Times (and listen to that record how often?), have listened to nothing but Tempest for several weeks now, and have no immediate plans to listen to anything else for some time, except for brief excursions into TTL, MT, L&T and so on, not to mention the classics: The Paris 2003 version of Visions of Johanna, and the Löfberg Lila Arena (Sweden) version of Desolation Row, same year. The Freddie Koella Period. And Tempest? Great through and through, with Narrow Way as survival kit on any lonesome day, the Titanic song as its centrepiece and everything else so good it can make you cry. Each to his own! Enjoy the old 60s stuff, its really really good too.

  2. I used to be a Dylan fan for a long time, have all of his regular albums in vinyl, a few bootlegs incl. concert-VHS, better quality DVDs and some of the earliest comment_approved books. At 65 today, am not a fan of any single “hero” in any field, just enjoy the goodies. Tempest, as a matter of fact, hardly surprised me. I felt much like it has been described in above article. I felt sometimes the stuff was far from arty-crafty, even slightly boring after a few verses. Dylan’s lyrics may be true to the thoughts in his head and feelings of his heart -as ever- but if wants to age gracefully, he’s gotta look out, kcomment_ID.

  3. Like you Stephen I have all the albums, bootlegs and multiple copies!

    Your review mirrored my own views on the album. I can not understand how so many reviewers are comparing it to some of his classic work.

    Yes He is. 71. I am glad he is still working and performing. But he needs to surround himself with better musicians that can inspire him more.

    However, as Dave Olney sacomment_ID to me in an interview ” the guy has pacomment_ID his dues and earned the right to do what he wants now ” you can’t argue with that!

  4. I’d like to hear the original reviewer’s more nuanced opinion. I agree its not as good as his best early work, and not as good as Time out of Mind. I however am not sure if it sas good as Modern Time, Love and Theft and Together Through Life, but I think it probably is.

    Do you think its worse than his other late career albums? Worse than his less renowned mcomment_ID and early career albums? Is it junk, or is it good but not great?

    I ask everyone, and also the original reviewer. I do nto see any classic songs rankign with is best, but I hear the whole album as interesting and with no really bad songs. I think its better than Together Through Life and proably equal to Modern Times and maybe Love and Theft. Maybe I am blinded by the light of the great Dylan? I don’t know…others?

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