Record Review: ‘Tempest’ by Bob Dylan

The Dylan resurgence that began with 97’s Time Out of Mind continues to roll on with 2012’s offering, Tempest. His 35th album comes 50 years after the release of his initial, self-titled album; an album that still stands out as one of his most underrated. Bob Dylan has always come off as a time traveler, always relevant but most often ahead of his time. Particularly in his early career; his melodies were often reused, past their time, but with lyrics that were beyond anything anyone was sprouting off, he became the future. On Tempest, he dwells entirely in the past.

This time around, we’re often following the walls looking for a light switch. That’s not to say that it’s impossible to find, but you won’t be the same person when you do. Tempest is Dylan’s darkest record since Blood on the Tracks. Both albums are not fueled by the same experiences in the slightest, the newest offering seems more damnation if anything, but this is the darkness that Dylan fans have been waiting for and that time was inevitably to bring.

Dylan has never sounded more “at the end of his tether.” His voice has taken a beating over a 50 + year career and at 71 it’s time tested, but it still rolls on with wit, humor, genius wordplay, darkness; Bob Dylan wears many hats on this record.

The album opens with “Duquesne Whistle” a five minute plus track that sounds very much like a train heading out of control, lyrically. The melody, however, stays on course, as Dylan and the band tap the pre-rock swing era for the lightest dance step ever played. Dylan growls as this train moves forward to an end in sight, perhaps death, but perhaps not. Dylan is witty as he bellows “You old rascal, I know where you’re going/I’ll lead you there myself at the break of day.” The Whistle itself refers to the largest blast furnace in the world named “Dorothy Six.” “Soon After Midnight” seems a tribute to those who do their work at just such a time, and the protagonist here has a certain profession in mind. The melody’s a slow country ballad, something you’d hear in the background at an age-old diner in the 50’s. “Narrow Way” is a reflective piece, on life and the eventual death that follows; “If I can’t work up to you, you’ll surely have to work down to me someday.”

“Pay in Blood” is an angry, blood fueled track that see’s its MC taking matters into his own hands. The state of the Union is not up to par and somebody is paying in blood, but “not my own.” Dylan makes it clear at the end of the song, “I came to bury, not to praise.” “Scarlet Town” is the “Damn This Town” (John Hiatt) of 2012, a little darker, but inescapable. As the record comes to a close, the title track becomes a sprawling tribute to the Titanic, even referencing James Cameron’s film. The final song is a tribute to John Lennon, and weaves lyrics from past Beatles and solo Lennon tunes.

Where Together Through Life faltered, Tempest stands out. It may be a dark journey, but there will always be something intriguing about that dark journey. The nice thing about Dylan is that he doesn’t come to rely on it, so when he pulls it out every so many years, it feels fresh, and he’s able to take it from a fresh perspective. Dylan does what he wants, when he wants, and in the past two decades, he’s largely made the right moves. If this ends up to be his last, then what a closing, if not, I can’t wait for more.

Album Rating: Own it on CD or Vinyl

Listening Co-efficient: Active Listen

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