Another take on the new Dylan album. Jim Farber’s mostly unfavorable review from the New York Daily News, Sept. 11, 2012…
A man shot in the back, another one bleeding through the mouth. A woman run through with a knife by her own hand. An ocean bobbing with hundreds of dead bodies.
Dastardly deeds and tragic circumstances of this sort form the nasty core of Bob Dylan’s latest disc. Fifty years into a storied career, the bard has cooked up a work primed to rival the most carnage-crazed CDs of gangsta rap.
While the Tempest title has caused tea-leaf readers to draw an ominous connection to Shakespeare’s final work, Dylan’s disc actually inches closer to King Lear. It finds an older man railing against a world that’s getting away from him.
The vitriol and foreboding it spews represents a major turnaround from the icon’s last two works. On 2009’s Together Through Life, Dylan often sang of love as a serene dream and a savior, matched to music that shuffled and ruminated. On 2006’s Modern Times, he leavened the heaviness with delicately played music and leisurely beats.
Dylan opens Tempest with a similarly lessened sense of consequence. “Duquesne Whistle” has the bright gait of Western swing. “Soon After Midnight” waltzes with sentiment.
From there, things turn bad — and, sadly, not in just the body count.
The songs of personal desire and longing that defined Dylan’s excellent recent works (1997’s Time Out of Mind and 2001’s “Love and Theft”) have given way to swipes at more worldly themes of corruption, violence and evil. Dylan is working a larger canvas here, with a giant cast and a sprawling plot, told in songs that run from seven all the way up to 14 minutes. Unfortunately, you’ll feel every minute of them.
The title track offers a consciously historic retelling of the Titanic story in 43 verses that refuse to offer a chorus. While the essential Titanic tale speaks eloquently of class, cowardice, bravery and hubris, Dylan’s telling of it adds nothing. It doesn’t help that it’s delivered without momentum or variation. Other than the lovely “Pay in Blood,” Dylan’s new songs lack melodies of their own. They’re generic runs at blues, folk and Celtic styles. The nine-minute three-way murder ballad “Tin Angel” too closely recalls typical Brit trad pieces like “Matty Groves.”
What’s left of Dylan’s voice doesn’t help engage us. He sounds tubercular.
The sheer detail in Dylan’s lyrics can impress, but his words lack metaphoric resonance here. The final song even lapses into a genuine Dylan no-no: cliche. It’s a salute to John Lennon that might have been written by Billy Joel.
It’s promising that, in the rest, we get to hear a 71-year-old irked and on edge. It’s just sad that whatever riles him in this Tempest wouldn’t trouble a teacup.