Since it's Christmas, here is the small stockingfiller'sworth of my much-delayed Tempest  assessment, after which I'm happy to be able to offer the substantial gift of a review by Roy Kelly, one of the very best of writers about Dylan. Roy's review is just appearing in the new issue of The Bridge, where it sits alongside rather gushier assessments by various others.

As my long reluctance has suggested, I’d hate to have to review Tempest  at length myself. It would involve more care and effort than Dylan seems to have put into creating the album, and no-one would value the analysis when I'd finished. So I want to say only this: that I hate the way each Dylan album’s release is now preceded by megahype and ludicrously overblown Instant Reviews (mostly by carefully chosen patsies who have only been allowed to hear it through once), and in this case I don’t like most of the album itself. I question its artistic sincerity, because I cannot find his agonised fulminations credible. I don't believe him. And then, I'm appalled to feel, mostly, a dislike of the sound of his voice. I can’t respect much of the detailing of its timing and phrasing because so very often I think he hasn’t bothered even to try  to pay those things careful attention. I like the title track, which so many people find execrable, and I like, but can't admire, the very minor Soon After Midnight' and Long And Wasted Years'. I think the rest is awful  -  its awfulness so vivid because it smothers the very tracks that come swollen with pretensions to gravity and substance.

People have defended the album in part by saying that his truly poor album was Self Portrait. This is a knee-jerk response and a large misjudgment. Just listen to - well, lots of things, but listen in particular to Copper Kettle'. There is Bob Dylan shining out with a fully alive intelligence, up against the grain of the usual worthy folk performances of the song yet radiantly at one with its spirit  -  a Bob Dylan soaring, good-humoured and real. I feel the loss of that more modest, far more creatively competent, infinitely more humane and generous Bob Dylan very keenly. The last time I heard him was on Love and Theft".  Since then we've had product. Tempest came trailing the gassy clouds of the Corporate Bob machine. His vituperative whingeing in the Rolling Stone interview was vile, and the album he was plugging so sourly remains, for me, deeply unappealing however many times I listen to it.

Now here's a real review, Roy Kelly's THE MARVELLOUS ILLUSION:

... and he could not be found anywhere I know,
vanished, as if from a tower of rope
in that mythical magic of long ago...
A vertical rope ascending thin air
falls to its coil; and then absence everywhere.   
Lorenzo Fabbrono

I know you’re gonna
think this song is just a riff
Bob Dylan                           

What’s it like? It’s like Together Through Life squared, miles better than Modern Times, with aspects of “Love And Theft” discernible and new strangeness all its own. It’s loud, lively, weird, bracing, intermittently dreary, mad, odd, and finally, despite everything, sad. It’s unexpected and people might think of it as a gift, especially now, a long-distance mirror of those early days when Richard Farina said people would go to concerts not sure if they would get the chance again, Dylan was so intense he might disappear. Instead we wonder if there will be a next album. Is this his last word, people can’t help thinking. Some might not have wanted the Christmas album to be it, though I don’t think that brave and often lovely attempt to do right by songs people love, without having to claim they were his, would have been a bad testament. As it is worriers can breathe again. This is now the last word until the next album might appear. And we all start calculating the years.
Its opening is delightful, as if a 1940s country band with jazz overtones had somehow contrived to time-travel this to Bob Dylan, one of the most beguiling introductions to any of his records. It shares that transported from the past in all its genuine-instrumental-authenticity feel that was evident on Floater and Waiting For You. At one point he sings up with “Must be the Mother of Our Lord”, and brings the Christmas album back to you again, that same, slightly desperate, doing the best with what he’s got, way. There are too more or less subliminal musical traces of City Of New Orleans, Blue Moon Of Kentucky and New Morning for me, but perhaps for no-one else.

The next track, Soon After Midnight was the song I most liked immediately on first acquaintance.  His voice doesn’t sound like charcoal grated against steel. He’s not pushing hard and so it doesn’t have that rubbed-the-wrong-way quality so widespread elsewhere. He sounds gentle, tender, wistful, all of which suit him and what he can do. It has one of my favourite Bob singing tricks where between the words ‘passing’ and ‘by’ he inserts a tiny, noticeable, knowing pause that absolutely enacts what he’s describing, showing whatever the state of his vocal cords, when it comes to phrasing he’s still skilled and intuitive. The melody, like every song on the album, is reminiscent of, or a direct take from, other songs. It sounds like the 1950s with the way the guitars are dreamy in the background, and then one steps out to play a phrase I know I know from those times but can’t quite bring to mind to identify. That’s Bob’s method these days. Why did I immediately like it? Because it sounds like a song, like the person is singing to a tune that connects to the words and gives them extra meaning, and the words sound like a real person is trying to make a connection with you.

This was an illusion. I’d listened and liked the words midnight and moon, the child-like, pleasing rhyming ease of phrases, praises, now and forever, more than ever, delivered with a kind of circumspect affection. I later glanced at all the words I couldn’t say I’d heard as such when the song was playing. What had I heard? A collection of sounds it seemed but not necessarily a meaning. I’d been seduced by the burnt honey of his voice which had made the content of the words dissolve. The mood of the song, the sound of it, that made me think I was hearing a person connect with me, was not so: all of the juxtapositions are non-sequiturs, jump cuts.  What we’re hearing aren’t songs so much as soundscapes, and though he may successfully evoke a mood he doesn’t seem to care whether they have coherent meaning as such, or make overall sense. He’s changed the definition of what a Bob Dylan song is, and seems to be calling any song’s status into question.

The whole album works this way, dividing between short soundscapes and long soundscapes and all of them rely either on repeated riffs, over and over, or accompaniment, as in the title track with its vaguely Irish fiddle melody and string band, also recurring over and over, as though trying to recreate the length of 1912 in actuality, with verse following verse following verse, 45 we’re informed, indicating that Bob knew the old song and liked the film too. The Carter Family, his source, managed it in 7. In Narrow Way the band play a wrenching, grinding, guitar pattern with slight key variation, relentless as Tempest’s marketing campaign, over and over, again and again, time out of mind, the equivalent of a musical decimal point recurring. That is the music while Bob goes through the words, regularly calling at and setting off from the chorus way station, leaving us to wonder what “If I can’t work up to you you’ll surely have to work down to me someday” really means, and if it may be found buried in some old blues song. 

Songs are about time, and repetition underlines that. Just as, though they might seem to emphasise stasis, chanting the same syllables over and over, or meditation, in fact can liberate you into a place where time doesn’t seem to hold sway. I don’t know if that has been on Bob’s mind, but given the repetitious nature of what he’s up to it wouldn’t surprise me. The album is titled Tempest after his song about the Titanic, but storms had nothing to do with that tragedy. Perhaps he’s thinking about the storm of life, and its day by day unfolding, repeating like a riff, and how tempest might be related to temporal. Not forgetting that he’s long been concerned with the past, present and future all happening in the same place.

On Long And Wasted Years he sings in his Basement Sign On The Cross voice, quite a surprise. In Early Roman Kings you hope first that it’s about just that. Then you hear sharkskin suits and high top boots, and read elsewhere about Brooklyn gangs, and, yes, the song might make sense that way. Except that subsequent verses go rogue and random and don’t connect with Brooklyn gangs, or each other or anything else really. They exist only so that Bob can find a rhyme for Kings every so often, and delight in machining his way through words that will rhyme with anything; and all set over the riff that might be ascribed to Muddy Waters, or Bo Diddley or field hands a hundred years before them, but in any case could never be thought new and original no matter how many professional chops his band bring to playing and arranging it.

His ersatz murder ballad Tin Angel uses traditional words: a buckskin mare, someone riding all day and all night, a golden chain; but also in addition to relinquishing a helmet and cross-handled sword he asks for his coat and tie. There is an electric wire. At the finale a gun goes boom. That’s satisfyingly achronological. The song of course is a mish-mash of doggerel and clumsiness that can’t even be given life by his fire-sale voice or the low-key doomy music, so opaque is the narrative and so devoid of internal coherence. You recall the Henry Lee of Love Henry and wonder what on earth Bob thought he was doing here, someone who once was eloquent about the mystery and beauty of those songs where roses grow out of people’s brains, lovers turn into geese and swans to angels.  He doesn’t want the arrow of time it seems, he wants all-at-onceness, the eternal overlay where everything is still happening. The past and present really are all in one space now, one giant ball of plenty, a kaleidoscope of sounds, the world made Bootleg Series.

People want Bob to be as important as Shakespeare because Shakespeare borrowed and took and reused other people’s stories and words too, and often seemed drunk on the sound of words and could appear not to care whether what was happening made sense. Of course Bob’s real self is as mysterious as Will’s. You can’t be sure he exists in any of the songs on Tempest, or anywhere else, he’s just the vehicle for how they get out into the world. Why, he even kept himself out of his own memoir, that grid pattern of other people’s words and outright fiction. He doesn’t write songs out of his own experience anymore. He’s like an artist, or master forger, who makes pictures by using elements and images from other people’s pictures only, and not from what he sees in the world. Pastiche, assemblage, collage, synthesis, making songs out of songs that already exist, tends to blunt and blur the personal. After that it’s just exercises in style and someone imitating himself, forms of karaoke, no matter how sincerely successful he, or the world, believes it to be.

The failure that typifies this for me is Roll On John, which many seem to find genuinely moving. All I hear is bits and pieces of words from Lennon, The Rolling Stones, Paul Simon and William Blake, as well ships, roads, sails, buffalo, rain, and snow, shuffled together arbitrarily and then sung as emotionally as if the whole were drenched in meaning, a triumph of intent over substance, having nothing to work with, the text being a simulacrum. But then, as Shakespeare wrote, nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so. The point of the album is this: the way he sings means more than what he sings. If John Lennon meant so much to him could he not have written a real song, one as careful, composed, thought out and touching in the precise sense that it seems to reach out and touch you, as Not Dark Yet?  Elsewhere people note reverently the dark themes of blood, murder, violence, and redemption. Don’t they know it’s all pretend, it’s all stage magic?  

Bob said that he wanted to write an album of religious songs but it was too difficult. The religious aspect now is that you have to submit to it as you would a conversion, leave critical faculties and doubt behind and take that leap of faith. My teenage son, who therefore is a master of all-at-onceness and the ball and kaleidoscope of plenty, advises that comparing Bob now with what he was is bound to lead to disappointment; that he has to be enjoyed for precisely what he is with no harking back. But we all know what we know. And if you admire the artistry, empathy and writing skill that created the extended narratives of The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, or Idiot Wind, or even Black Diamond Bay, the Tempest long songs are going to seem of a different, and I find, lower order.

In the prolonged circus-is-coming-to-town haul of pre-release publicity, - the world papered with digital handbills as it was with actual ones in Ray Bradbury stories or Dylan’s childhood, - the secret, sacred object is played in a locked room for chosen acolyte journalists, stripped of all recording apparatus, including pencil and paper. After release, when everyone is in on the game, the circus motif shifts to the tour and its carnival progress. The secret, sacred object becomes Bob himself, the cranky, grumpy, predictably unpredictable, contrarian septuagenarian, the once and future Bob Dylan, and he must be praised in as unthinking a way as sacred objects of veneration are. If one says that what one would have liked to hear was something as considered, careful, measured, poetically true to its creator’s view of the way the world is now to a person of his age and experience, -  written and not gathered is what one means, - as Paul Simon’s So Beautiful Or So What, then the laughter begins followed by accusations of apostate negativity. Simon is seen, I think, as fastidious, stuffy, staid, when compared to the aura of Asperger’s-savant that seems to adhere to Bob Dylan. More than a songwriter and performer Bob is viewed as a force and freak of nature, as much an evidence of America, as it is now and historically, as a chip off Mount Rushmore. What he does is judged by standards too often applicable only to him. Nevertheless Paul Simon and Bob Dylan are of an age, in the same business and from the same times; paradoxically the one about to sketch you a picture of what’s going on around here sometimes is no longer Bob.

Instead he gifts you this amped up, pumped up, loud, lively, weird, bracing, mad, odd, irradiated with latter-day darkling delights, intermittently dreary offering, repetitive and finally sad. Like Prospero’s, it is a marvellous illusion. For many of course this will be more than enough.



  1. Wrong. All may be revealed. Not in this century. Why bother. By the way, Tempest is striking, truthful; remarkably and emotionally original. I predict a follow-up will arrive soon. If I am going to type this I should put a little time and thought into it. But I didn’t. Just jotted this down quick and fast.

    1. marching sea change, make me want

      cloverfields in the moonlight in vermont

      i say, would speaking openly, only in verse

      defy the laws of this our private universe?

    2. Just what do you think you have to guard?

  2. I love every last bit of Tempest (the album) and agree, with Michael, Tempest (the song) is by far the best track. Actually I'm shocked Michael likes any part of the album (just as I was truly stunned when he wrote a positive review of Christmas In The Heart). Since Michael does like Tempest (the song) I hope to see him write more about that.

    Patrick Ford

  3. I am really amazed by the tone of Gray's comments — condescending, hyperbolic (which, ahem, he complains about in others!), contrarian (which Kelly ascribes to the album), and frankly dumb. No, Michael, I cannot find your agonised fulminations credible; I don't believe you. Kelly at least tries to make a case, though he too slips into insult ("he must be praised in as unthinking a way as sacred objects of veneration are") and assertions with which I for one do not agree. For instance, I love Modern Times and I like Tempest a lot, while after almost 50 years I still find Paul Simon too middle-brow for my taste; but reasonable people may disagree, and perhaps productively. Gray, however? Time to put away that poison pen.

  4. Michael, you're a one trick pony and always have been. Your method is to praise where others slam (Under the Red Sky, Christmas in the Heart) and slam where others praise (countless examples, Tempest being the latest).

    You're predictable and a bore.

    -- Glenn

  5. There is a German artist who recreated the wood, and cloth, and barbed wire of the death camps, and I remember how violated I felt walking through...it was the way a young artist could deal with that subject, and it was hard to take without telling us much new...AND it has stayed with me! Sometimes artist and writers feel they have to "go there" and stack up that familiar hardware--just to put themselves deep into the pain. I remember in college re-writing a version of Hamlet & naming it: AS TOLD BY OPHELIA. My Shakespeare prof said I was a "genius". No one else said much. It remains a work I am glad I did while I was Ophelia's age. Artist do "art" for many reasons. Tempest is hard to take. An artist who started in the folk world - with this album took that tradition and pulled it up by the roots, dismantled the rail tracks, went straight for the mystery parts, and as a poet entering that "exhibit" Dylan laid out so deliberately and with such anger I feel - each time I experience it... the same sort of wonder and pain I felt with the burnt books, and the striped dirty cloth....a deep respect for not the victims of the death camps, but for the brave anger of the artist. To go THERE? NOW? Dylan is returning the folk tradition to the TABLOID world of the broadsides, and the Tavern songs. The murder JUST HAPPENED. We knew THEM. I can't "explain" Tempest. I can only walk through it and FEEL the deliberate ARTIST'S ACT of re-entering into the sweat and blood of that world. A world so familiar and so intimate, and so awful, and so long ago...DYLAN has always taken us to some rough places. I feel Tempest is a re-visit to the HORROR & AWE he felt when he first walked those rails, before the blood was cleaned up and made PRETTY. EVEN the train whistle that he tells us to listen to in the opening song---is a plea. The actual history is there was a horrible train wreck. People were killed. But he returned us to the wonder and joy JUST BEFORE. It seems to me that a "mature" artist who has always looked straight at PAIN---Is merely revisiting his own path. The question we want answered as we age--is how did I get HERE. TEMPEST isn't about the boss and his wife, or the train, or even Lennon--it is about the MYTHS of these things! He is stacking up and laying upon display, just like the German did the artifacts of the death camps. But it is time the artist is working with. And memory. And PAIN.
    All kinds of pain. By going back to "story" he is hiding the personal. But he can't hide his past anymore than Woody could hide the dust bowl and the horrors inside his own family history.
    Let it sink in. Don't even try to "review" it. Notice the artifacts. But let it sink in... like an old newspaper pinned to burnt and bombed out walls...

  6. Roy Kelly's comments on Soon After Midnight seemed to me to describe accurately the effect Dylan intended. I heard the song as describing the difficulties of writing a song and finding a rhyme. It's soon after midnight and his songwriting day has just begun. Later in the day he will get together with the Faerie Queen.

  7. Hasn't Dylan always an illusionist? He casts his spell, and we choose if we want to go under it.
    You have chosen not to go under the spell that is 'Tempest', it seems. You prefer his older spells.
    You teenage son is still open to new spells. Perhaps he is 'Tempest's target audience?

    Brian Hamilton-Smith

  8. @Michael, I couldn't agree more, you've articulated what I've been saying since the album was released -except I think all of it is awful. I shudder at the mere thought of putting it on, having done my utmost to like it, since the hype and daft reviews informed me it was brilliant. Try playing it when visitors call, his voice makes you cringe with embarrassment. The only thing I don't thank you for is this ghastly review whose fake and insincere wordiness only mirrors the drivel it critiques.

  9. Tempest is all pastiche which of course is what song and dance men (and women) do. They re-work the tradition again and again, add in stuff from the air around them and then, when they can, they breathe in spirit like blowing on embers. Dylan seems to have managed to wrestle his unruly imagination into the method like the master craftsmen he is. The result is a piece of art that is at once a time out of mind expression of the folk/blues tradition and completely contemporary in its bricolage 'post-modernity'. It is a post-modernity full of richness and ethics, 'so brave, so true, so gentle was he/ I'd weep for him as he'd weep for me' as he sings in a nursery rhyme idiom that leads to the question, 'where is the boy who looks after the sheep?'. Something good to take into these times.

  10. Nigel Williamson23 December, 2012

    ''...leaving us to wonder what “If I can’t work up to you you’ll surely have to work down to me someday” really means, and if it may be found buried in some old blues song.''

    Indeed - by one of Bob's favourite groups, the Mississippi Sheiks who recorded the song You'll Work Down to Me Someday in 1934.

    Perceptive comments from MG and brilliant, erudite, passionate, engaged and genuinely insightful piece by Roy Kelly, which makes you wish all the gushing reviewers with their silliness about a ''mature, ripe pinnacle to his career'' could be made to revisit their reviews three months on and rewrite them. I'd bet you a million dollar bash they would be far less fawning than they were back in Sept/October.

    And spot on about Roll On John. If Bob is really that inspired by Lennon, write a dignified tribute that is genuinely going to move people. Lennon's memory deserves a song that's the equivalent of Not Dark Yet or Blind Willie McTell, not the careless jumble of Roll On John.

    Thanks for this post, Michael, and thats to Roy for reminding us what proper music criticism is about.

  11. Where did Roy Kelly find those lines from Lorenzo Fabbrono? "A vertical rope ascending thin air/ falls to its coil; and then absence everywhere" successfully evokes late Dylan's trickster qualities. I googled both Fabbrono and those lines without any success.

  12. Rambling Gambling Gordon

    Sorry, but your 'gift' of Roy Kelly’s piece is a Christmas matching tie and hanky set. It’s beyond me what you see in it, and quite staggering that another contributor can call it ‘brilliant, erudite...insightful’ criticism. I thought it rambling, risibly overwritten, painfully lacking in incisiveness, and a chore and a bore to read.
    Your own comments are at least a refreshing change from all the hyperbolic, too-scared to-find-fault, herd approach to so much that Dylan does these days, but I nevertheless think you detract from the impact of what you say by compaining about the Rolling Stone interview (as irrelevant as anything any artist has to say outside the confines of the work – see some of Larkin’s comments in his letters, for example); by referring to the ‘megahype’ that precedes a Dylan release these days (it’s true that it happens, but it can be ignored and has nothing to do with the merit of the work itself); and by your uncharacteristically sweeping and indiscriminate language (‘the rest is awful’, you say – is ‘awful’ really the word you want here? Really?)
    More and more these days I find myself coming to the conclusion that Bob Dylan, now seventy-one, is probably never going to release another great album. I know for decades he’s been full of thrilling surprises, but I think that at last they may be over. And the best way to deal with that is to accept it, not to pretend that what he’s doing is better than it is. To do that is self-delusional and an insult to his genuinely greatest work.

    1. Fully agree with your put-down of Roy Kelly's piece as "boring" -my sentiments, precisely -but I also like MG's use of "awful" (which I borrowed) because I believe that's all it is and doesn't warrant any more incisive use of critical language, since Bob didn't have the decency or courtesy to care to much about the dross he inflicted on us. One can almost imagine the board meeting -"let's just rerun the same marketing trick and tell them it's simply brilliant...twilight years....career resurgence and so on".

      "But what about the "Deluxe Edition"? Oh, throw in a dopey diary. They'll go gaga for it".


  13. Thanks for your thoughtful comments about Tempest, which hit the bull's eye. It's got a couple of catchy tunes, but not enough to save it from a pedestrian sound. Your comments about the hype that now surrounds every Dylan release is also spot-on. He's become a religion to some folks, though, thankfully, not to himself. There might still be great sounds to come -- why not? Tempest, however, is not one of his best efforts.

  14. michael

    bob has been fighting the good fight against the hard-wiring of the dna that is explained in the study of evolutionary psychology...

    just to be coming out w/ 'product' at this stage in his career makes him relevant...

    i agree that 'love and theft' has been his last really great album, but have a hard time seeing that it really matters what he is able to produce these days...

    i remember bob's own words on that '60 minutes' interview some years ago...he just can't write songs like 'it's alright ma' any more...but he can write something else...

    that is the evolutionary psychology theory right there, and coming from bob's own lips...

    he's done a great job of extending the legacy, but we all are chained to the human condition...

    bottom line: you're taking the work 'too seriously' at this stage of the game...

  15. Michael, Thank you. Perhaps similar to Roy's reaction, when I first read the song title 'Early Roman Kings', I experienced a revisiting of my excited anticipation of revelation and inspiration, that was on many previous occasions wonderfully fullfilled. When I heard this soulless retread of other cynical blues songs, I guessed that 'Tempest' might be the first Dylan album I would not like. I have explained why I don't like it in previous postings.

    I recall in 'No Direction Home' Bob Dylan reflected with maturity & wisdom with regards to the negative reactions he received during his 1966 world tour: " You can be killed with kindness". Whilst it is obviously his responsibility when sub-standard work appears in his name, those of us who are over generous are not doing him any favours. In the past, I have over-estimated the quality of his mediocre songs, because of child-like loyalty born out of the profound importance & significance his work had for me in the dark days of early life. I learnt infinitely more as a 15 yr old through listening to his songs than I did by attending school; and his words provided a defense and internalised support against the alienating harshness of the world I then inhabited.

    It is genuinely interesting that an artist who has articulated great wisdom, appears in his current work to have lost touch with such a guiding depth. On the other hand, we can all lose touch with important parts of ourselves.

    He created wonderful art for 40 years, and I wish him well.


  16. Finally a really good - true - verdict on the Tempest album. Thanks! Kristian

  17. Glenda thank you!

  18. I am deeply disapointed with Tempest. It doesn't stand up to the hype. Half the songs are unlistenable. I actually enjoy Christmas in the Heart and Together Through Life more than Tempest. They are consistent albums, although lightweight.

    Glenn (mightyquinn61)

  19. I am amazed by the confidence, lack of respect, sheer arrogance and even hate demonstrated by many when criticizing Dylan work.

    There is also a strong notion of personal betrayal, as if Dylan with his criticized work was personally disloyal to the critic, and has violated some expectation or contract for certain " artistic level" .

    Mr. Gray feels so angered and betrayed by Tempest that he "punishes" Dylan (and us) by not reviewing Tempest.

    This attitude is similar to the folk purists fury and feeling of betrayal and desertion when Dylan went electric in 1964.

    Just remember what the master himself wrote:

    1." I wish I could write you a melody so plain …."


    2. Don't criticize what you can't understand


    3. But I mean no harm nor put fault
    On anyone that lives in a vault
    But it's alright, ma if I can't please him

    My opinion is that Tempest is one of Dylan's greatest albums, and that includes his 60's " "sacred" classics.

    Thanks Glenda for an excellent post . Hope the "disappointed" critic will read it and try to understand it.

  20. Its strange for me to read these comments. Is this some kind of general consensus or do certain themes get set up in comments threads or is there a particular readership for this blog? Or is it just that I've got it wrong and that Tempest is actually rubbish? You see for me Tempest is simply a beautiful work of poetic genius. As good as anything he's done. Astonishing in its originality. Late work for sure (read Edward Said if so inclined) but all the better for that.

  21. I agree with Francis and the Birds. Try as I might, I am unable to discern a bad album, and especially not an 'awful' album in Tempest. There have been awful Dylan albums and tours, but not for quite some while (compare the worst of Tempest to Knocked Out Loaded side one). What do those concerned about 'sincerity' make of albums like the Jung-drenched Desire or the muddled but brilliant Street Legal? I would agree that the hype-machine is annoying, and that many of the positive reviews have been superficial and fawning. However, these erudite but mean spirited take-downs seem misguided as well . I have read probably 100 reviews of Tempest and only about three (Greil Marcus, Robert Christgau, Peter Stone Brown) have made any sense to me in terms of the experience of actually listening to the album.

  22. Q. How many Dylanologists does it take to change a lightbulb ?

    A. Thirty...one to change it and twenty nine to discuss it ad nauseam.

    I am not a Dylanologist so.....

    1. The hype machine has always been in existence...I recall the Street-Legal album's release and the great souvenier pullout sections inside Melody Maker and the NewNME in which Michael did his own "gushing" review. I still have these in a bedroom drawer.
    As someone commented above, everyone has the choice to avoid this hype. I did...I avoided all the pre-release publicity, reviews, pre-release songs, the video ( which I have not watched to this day ),blogs,etc,etc. I listened to the album about a week after it's release.

    2. No one should be surprised that Michael admires Roy's review and " writings ". People tend to admire people who agree with them and I suppose this is human nature.
    I undersand that Michael is in a difficult position in relation to criticism of The Bridge ( he has to make a living like everyone else ). I dislike The Bridge for a number of reasons and ,in particular, a horrible old school tie mentality and very poor editorial control.

    3 The Rolling Stone interview seems to have the smell of the famous Playbook interview to me ,surely no one could so eloquently demonstrate their enslavement in a face to face interview. ( Glenda, very brave of you to go so deep in this forum).

    4 Any discussion in relation to "care " with Dylan's vocals is bound to be problematic. For example, Micheal at one time was very critical of Dylan's astonishing vocal performance on the Hard Rain album ( from memory.."an anonymous vocal " and highly appreciative of the Budokan live album.

    5 Tempest is a collection of songs ( sorry, Roy, they really are songs including tone poems,ballads,blues,hymns,etc ).

    6. Tempest is the work of a performing artist...his words are " just one ingredient ". I love his vocal performances on this album especially Scarlet Town, Soon After Midnight, Long and Wasted Years and Roll on John.


    Has anyone thought about why Bob only played 3 themes of TEMPEST during his last Usa-Canadian tour? And only started to include them in the list first days of novenber? He is not the kind of artist that promotes his last work ON TOUR. I think he must be SAD and at the same time ENJOYING IT when reading all these different opinions. "Judas" someone sceamed once when he turned electric. "I don't beleive you" was all he could answer!

    I agree with Shabtai with what he says. I don't understand how one can like an album or no acording to what critics say!

    Tempest is a great album, and if you don't like it, or, even better, makes you feel uncorfortable when you play it to your friends as someone said ( LOL ) just don't buy it or turn the radio down when you hear it! Bob is far away ahead of you.

    I myself am proud to have been a contemporary of the genius since his beginings although he is 10 years older than me.

    Patrick. ......"You gotta lot of nerves to say........"

  24. It seems like peoples expectations and enjoyment of the work is a source of scandal. This has nothing to do with Tempest.

    I think it's a great album, a work he truly was engaged in, and it suffers repeated listening contentedly. I read these review, and honestly, I think I must have been listening to something else instead...

  25. Michael, you've written some of the most interesting assessments of Dylan's work but perhaps you've just spent too much time with him in your head by now. Your feelings about 'Tempest' are to be respected but, in my opinion, you're plain wrong. If you can't hear the sincerity and soul in 'Scarlet Town', 'Pay In Blood' or 'Tin Angel' I'd suggest you give Bob a rest for a year or so. He who's tired of Dylan is tired of life.

  26. Not a track on Tempest i would say is poor but do believe it would be a better album without the title track on it.
    I have read and praised all versions of song and dance man and enjoyed your live show Michael but are you losing it?
    You sound like you have spit your dummy out for some reason?
    Why do all of Bobs albums get compared to his 60S work and Blood on the tracks and Time out of mind why not compare his recent work to the likes of Down in the grove, Knocked out Loaded Slow train Infidels etc etc etc , For me Tempest is as good as he has done since Love and Theft and far better than his last 2 releases. You have made a good living from Bob Dylan Michael and you should respect that.
    If you dont like Tempest dont play it but i dont see how a 71 Dylan could write or sing a better song than the almost perfect Tin Angel. My rating for Tempest is 8/10

  27. Whether you like Tempest or you don't, Michael Gray and Roy Kelly are articulate critics and entitled to express their views. I'm glad they're around and they're not afraid to say not everything Bob does is beyond criticism.

  28. Hi Michael,

    without wishing to self-aggrandise myself, I thought 'now there's something I don't have to write,' when reading your essay(s).'

    Dylan's new work troubles me, in the same way that 'Modern Times' troubles me. It makes me think, why don't I agree with the consensus? I planned to write a critique of Modern Times, almost a corrective, but in the end I gave it time, and in a way a little benefit of the doubt... but I believe time has proven I was right. TTL wasn't even worth the bother - I never felt troubled; liked the first two tracks and the last two tracks. In fact, I think you can hear the band build in a beautiful way halfway through 'It's All Good.'

    Then comes 'Tempest'... and here's an album I loved on first hearing - seemed to knock it out the park. I was mesmerised, far too much to take in, really caught by the tune of the first track, dulled by the second (though in a 'Moonlight' kind of way it was obviously far more sinister than it appeared.) Then 'Narrow Way' and some great *couplets*: 'Ever since the British burned the White House down / There's a bleeding wound in the heart of town,' and 'We looted and we plundered on foreign shores / why is my share not equal to yours?' Fantastic.

    However, as the album progresses, even the progression of thought in those two examples seems absent.

    Compared to the last three songs, which occupy their own sense of time, the others seem warm ups. That's not to say 'Pay in Blood' is bad, or 'Early Roman Kings,' it's a nicely paced album. The problem for me is that there are so few lines which are even as connected as the couplets I mentioned above (which aren't even that great themselves.) Listening to the album as a whole, on earphones through London's public transport system, I have enjoyed the piecing together I've done. For example, the reference to 'The wizard's work played on' in 'Tempest' is a lovely line, magical in the way that it relates to slavery ('Pay in Blood') and the Shakespeare play, and so forth. Yet a lot of these lines could be transposed piecemeal into other songs with little gain or loss. 'Roll on John' contains lines about slavery 'rags on your back just like any other slave / they tied your hands and they clamped your mouth'. Yet these lines don't amount to anything. There's nothing to suggest they didn't originate in 'Pay in Blood,' and were transposed to ROJ unthinkingly. Juxtaposition is a pretty poor way of exploring a theme.

  29. (continued)

    Thom Gunn wrote a piece about Allen Ginsberg's later work, which compared his 'first thought best thought' approach to a child with crayons, lacking any middle range.

    While 'Tempest' is the best song on the album, in the way it stays with a theme, it's still hardly worth the effort, I think. Or certainly, I don't feel compelled to put it on. Obvious but true, the two lines from Desolation Row say it so much better.

    The simple fact is, after loving the album on the first few listens, I came to almost dread putting it on. It doesn't move me. At all. It's bombast. Nothing is communicated. Empty posture - so I might have thought Dylan is putting something on the line by the presentation - the upfront vocal - of 'Long and Wasted Years,' but it's just the trappings of a live performer who might place a slow song three tracks in so the schmucks at the back can feel they've run the full gamut of emotions. This is a woefully tired album. I recall when The Fall reached the end of a natural period of supremacy, previously effortless: instead of taking stock, and reflecting, they produced a series of breakneck, unvaried, slightly relentless releases which smacked of desperation. Where the hell is Dylan, and what does he have to say?

    For all that, and my evident dislike of the album, I have two further comments:

    1 why is his delivery so often reminiscent of, say, Brownsville Girl, from the eighties?

    2 Dylan said about TOOM that it might be a spooky album 'because I feel spooky.' Tempest certainly is a spooky album, and the album has some kind of power as a whole, due in part to its surety. The problem, I feel, is its right to be that sure.

    To me, it's self evident. I don't want to hear it. Put it alongside earlier works by Dylan you love and it doesn't stand up. I say this as someone who believes some of TOoM, all of Love and Theft, all of World Gone Wrong do.

    Dylan said around '97 how the press would never catch up with him again. They have. Which leaves me considering Dylan's work since 1980 -

    Slow Train, Live 79/80 concerts, some of Shot of Love + outtakes, the Paul Williams version of Infidels, Brownsville Girl, Oh Mercy beginning with Dignity, dropping Political world and ending with Series of Dreams, the two folk albums, some lovely live 90s performances (Pretty Peggy O) TOoM, Love and Theft, 'Friend of the Devil' live,

    I quite like the White House performance and Do Re Mi, - quite like the raw guitar sound of his Feis performance a year ago (on one song only, Simple Twist of Fate)

    but damn it, have i finally lost interest?

  30. Well, here's the thing, man. You can live with Dylan or you can live with the publicity around Dylan. In the second case you become a part of the show. If that's all you want, fine...critique the publicity...but dancing in a cage ain't really the same as being a critic. So you end up claiming that a heartfelt song like Roll On John means nothing because it means nothing on the terms of publicity and hype where you've chosen to stand, or dance, or squirm around. But heard on its own terms, with the echoes of provincial children's imagination (sailors, cowboy adventures) set against Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience, and that ubiquitous bedtime prayer, all judged by John Lennon's art and life, it comes to mean a whole lot. It is a well-structured, thoughtful and worthy tribute to its subject. In a similar way, the title track is a really interesting danse macabre that waltzes you around the floor with these doomed characters, each appearing a moment then gone forever, like snapshots from Brueghel. Very successful on its own terms, as long as you're not trying to make it into something it's not. Not to say that Roy Kelly's hearing of Tempest isn't valid on his terms, but not all of us are listening on those terms--or quite understanding why one would choose to do so.

    Tempest isn't his best album, okay, but it's damned fine. (Oh yeah, BTW, Will Friedwald makes a very good case for Dylan's singing in his A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers. A nice tribute, really, from a most unexpected--to me--source.)

    Fred Mecklenburg

  31. "He who's tired of Dylan is tired of life."
    May I nominate this as the dummest statement of 2012? Did you mean "Star Trek"?

  32. Glenda's "reply":
    Yeah-I tend to get serious, even in this sort of sports-bar blog...but. Here is what my brother wrote me when I sent him the "slicer" blog using Ring Them Bells to comment on Newtown. (Doesn't "Newtown"-sound like it should be a song on the Tempest CD?).

    This is Larry:

    Thank you Glenda
    I have listened to Bob Dylan from the first day you introduced him to me. I have always been amazed at how clear he can see the world and how beautiful he frames the reflections of his thoughts. I have sometimes felt that the images or thoughts he expresses are so strong that I would have a hard time coping with that stark of an insight to life. There were times I had to turn away.

    Now is not a time to turn away. It is a time to understand and react.

    Thank you for introducing me to Dylan and a hundred other poetic and artistic facets of life and bringing this out of the past with a renewed meaning.

    Your younger brother

    Larry knows he isn't in a sports bar - when he talks about Dylan. What I can't "get"...is this army of people who fill pages saying how they don't like ANYTHING that Dylan writes, plays, says, or thinks....Larry may turn away at times--but it is because he CAN SEE how brave it is of Dylan to LOOK CLEARLY at the world and then express it with such power and beauty MOST OF THE TIME! So-I wonder why all these pages and pages over 50 years---can't at least be expressed with some RECOGNITION and GRACE? Some did. Most don't. And this rude speech has been going on for 50 years! Why? This "little cricket" is just trying to set the impossible into vivid life-giving "ART"! And he deserves a thoughtful consideration. Not "trash talk".

    I'd love to see a blog by these people explaining their own flip-reactions! Why the need to trash Dylan year after year? And I'm not talking about the few who are expressing insight and appreciation. Just the rude ones. Why are you even reading Dylan material if you dislike him so much? Help me--it is possible to be critical without removing all humanity--isn't it?

  33. it is interesting to read both sides of this thread, and i can definitely see both points of view. Tempest surely isn't the worst or the best Dylan album (i don't think it's in the top or bottom 5). But it's part of the canon and that makes it worth knowing. Bob does not seem to have put too much effort into it. Maybe he should use a real producer again. But if this is the best he can do, or will do, I would rather he give us this album than withhold it.

  34. If the release dates of Tempest and L&T were reversed, I wonder would the latter be on the receiving end of those who now find Tempest tired or somehow lacking. Maybe it's the listeners who are jaded and not the work?

  35. Tempest continues to work its magic on me. A work of substance and a self contained universe with conviction not seen since TOOM and Desire before it.

  36. From Colin Warren

    Having been told that the Rolling Stone interview was vile, I reluctantly took time out to revisit its ten pages and was pleasantly surprised. The bulk of the interview was what one would expect of Dylan even if (or perhaps because) it contained a story which many would find rather bizarre. I can only assume that Michael’s comment refers to either Dylan’s admonishment of critics examining every word he writes in order to establish the original source or meaning or perhaps for the tone of his response which happened to use that good old American word ‘motherfuckers’.

    Michael lists three songs from Tempest that are acceptable with the remainder being awful. Now if this were written by anyone else no one would care in the same way that no one would care if I told you that it were all wonderful. The problem is that Michael has made at least part of his living by holding himself out as something of an expert on Mr Dylan and I am concerned that such a person should have developed such a strong dismissive attitude to all work since Love and Theft. Perhaps it is time he stopped listening and commenting.

    It seems pointless to me to discuss which songs on Tempest are best. It is all a matter of opinion. I could never get over the fact that Michael seems to believe that Love and Theft is one of Dylan’s greatest works and better than TOOM. I appreciate that a few others have the same opinion but if we can’t agree that TOOM which from my first hearing contained 4 great songs and at least 3 good songs is not in a league above L&T there is no hope! For heaven sake, it also contains a song which I used to skip in the early days and which in the UK is becoming a standard for other singers! As a side note, I wonder what we all think about the fact that Make You Feel My Love is now probably the most famous Dylan song there is to most young people in the UK!

    I can judge which albums I like the best by the number of times I have played them in their entirety. At a very approximate guess, TOOM about 100 times, L&T about 10 times and not for many years, Modern Times about 6 times, Christmas in the Heart maybe once, Together Through Life 3 or 4 times. Of course, there are individual songs from those albums that I have played many times such as Mississippi from L&T (originally recorded for TOOM!), Workingman’s Blues and others. By comparison I have played the complete Tempest already probably more than 10 times. I think that demonstrates that I don’t believe everything to be equal and am not supporting Tempest simply because it is Dylan.

    I am glad Michael at least likes the song Tempest. I think it is a lovely tune and I just close my eyes, allow myself to become swallowed up in the song and the 14 minutes pass by in no time. For sure it is not as good as the long songs of days gone by. It is no Desolation Row but that doesn’t stop it being good in its own right. Finally, for those who make comments such as they don’t understand what Pay in Blood is about, I suspect that having discussed slavery in the Rolling Stone interview and used therein the word ‘grinded’ when the song commences with ‘grinding my life out’ that may give a clue. Not that I would be stupid enough as to say what any Bob Dylan song definitely meant. They mean whatever you want them to mean. Just enjoy them.

  37. Michael, when Song and Dance Man III came out, Folk Roots' reviewer took you to task for spending too much time on BD's later 'minor work', thinking no doubt of your long analyses of songs like Fot of Pride or Caribbean Wind. In that book you also compare in detail 'Spanish Harlem Incident' and 'Emotionally Yours' as examples of 'good' and 'bad' minor songs. You have, as in that case, paid detailed attention to songs you don't like, and if you dislike, say, 'Scarlet Town' or 'Pay in Blood', I would like to see you demonstrate why, in detail, stanza by stanza, line by line. That way you might also find some merit in those songs even if you finally concluded they were failures. My own take is that what rules this album is the Spirit of Pastiche - nothing new of course, it's been that way for about five albums running by now. The question is, is it good or bad pastiche? (is it lively pastiche in the line of "Love and Theft" or dull pastiche like much of "Modern Times"?) It may all hinge on Tin Angel. Is there any point whatever in rewriting Black Jack Davey/Matty Groves/Love Henry in 2012? I remain agnostic on this one for now, but thinking of your excellent readings of Good As I Been To You and World Gone Wrong, you would be the best-placed person to do this and offer the world a genuinely informed and grounded opinion. However much you dislike the album, I do feel the spirit of your books calls out for you to demonstrate your views with the same richness of detail you gave to those allegedly 'minor' songs from the 80s ...

  38. There will never be an absolutely objective way to determine whether something is "good" or "bad" an "expert" more than anything is an individual who has figured out a way to tell you if he likes something in entertaining, sometimes elucidating, and sometimes elaborate ways, if Michael doesn't care for the album you don't have to worry, you can still like it, I'd be willing to bet that Michael may prefer some foods over others that you really, really, like.

  39. Rambling Gambling Gordon

    Christopher Rollason makes a good point. I happen to think Tempest isn’t that good either, but I’m dismayed by your sweeping dismissal of most of it as ‘awful’ and would like to hear you justify such a claim. (It was, if I may say so, a bit of a cheat citing the Roy Kelly piece instead, which, as I said in an earlier comment, strikes me as pretty dreadful - exactly, in fact, the kind of unedifying, rhapsodic rambling that I would never have expected the author of Song and Dance Man to appear to champion.) It would also give you the opportunity to reply those here whose comments are practically ad hominem attacks. (Tut-tut indeed...)

  40. Roy Kelly

    Disappointing, obviously, that so many dislike and/or misunderstand my writing. However, everyone is perfectly free to write their own couple of thousand words, put it out there, and see who shies stones at it. Meanwhile many thanks to Nigel Williamson, who did like and get what I was up to. 1 out of 43, not bad. And with regard to Lorenzo Fabbrono: I am his exclusive agent and contact with the outside world.

  41. 'So I want to say only this: that I hate the way each Dylan album’s release is now preceded by megahype and ludicrously overblown Instant Reviews (mostly by carefully chosen patsies who have only been allowed to hear it through once).'

    Absolutely agree. Perhaps it's this that leads you (more easily than you otherwise might have been led) to view the content of the post-"Love and Theft" albums as 'product.' But I do think it's fair to say that songs like 'Ain't Talkin'' and 'Scarlet Town' have an element of box-ticking about them, in so far as they're much as might be expected of the late-period Bob persona.

    I find 'Tempest' a strange bird. I'm very fond of 'Duquesne Whistle,' 'Soon After Midnight,' and especially 'Long and Wasted Years,' which - collage or not - I find moving. I loved 'Tin Angel' at first, but it has not worn well, and even seems a bit silly now, with its strained menace and preposterous story. The rest I find listenable (more than that if I'm in the right mood) but somehow unconvincing, in the sense that I don't really 'buy' it. It has been noted countless times through the years that Bob, as a singer, has always been a fine actor, but it is precisely this quality that seems to be slipping away in the most recent work. There is no longer sufficient sleight of hand to pull off the magic trick. It all seems a little too laboured. 'Pay in Blood,' for instance, requires considerable suspension of disbelief not to find it faintly embarrassing.

    As for the title track, I find it pretty enjoyable, though one reviewer's comparison of the lyric to William McGonnagall's poetry has somewhat spoilt it for me - simply because, alas, it's a little too close to the bone.

    The singing, no question, far exceeds what Bob can manage live these days - and if that sounds like damning with faint praise, let me add that the vocal on 'Long and Wasted Years' is one of my favourites for many a year. Here, the actor convinces.

  42. Rambling Gambling Gordon

    I wish I could stop getting so irritated by those here who insist on reducing recent Dylan albums to their initials: TOOM, MT, TTL and L&T(the last a double irritation, since the quotation marks are usually left out) I say recent albums, but I’ve a funny feeling Blood on the Tracks has been reduced to BOTT. (Who, I wonder, is going to be the first to give similar treatment to Blonde on Blonde?)

    Somebody started it, and now everybody’s at it. Why? What do you do with those seconds that you save by not typing out the full titles? Do you realise how annoying it is having to work them out each time?

    They are ugly, unnecessary, silly, cheap and nasty.

    Happy New Year.

  43. Well said, sir.

  44. McHenry Boatride30 December, 2012

    You are right RGG. And it's going to be a real PITA when we go back as far as "Desire" and "Dylan". Or perhaps one shouldn't confess to being aware of the latter, let alone enjoying it.

    1. It's OK, McH. We can call them D1 and D2! Nor should you be afraid of enjoying the more maligned album of the two. I always loved Mr D's rendition of Mr B.

      Colin Warren

  45. So you guys have made me weirdly sympathetic with Robert Christgau, a critic I've loved to hate for many years now! But I think someone like him can enjoy these latter-day Dylan albums more than some Dylan fans because he doesn't take this stuff so seriously. It's rock and roll (or whatever).

    One recurring theme in the commentary above is, "I thought this album sounded really good at first, until I _thought_ about it." Are you kidding? Do you really listen to music like that? Or do you only listen to Dylan's music like that? If it sounds good, it is good. Right? Or at least if you have to get to the level of scrutinizing the lyrics before you can tell whether it's a decent record, it's probably not a bad one.

    What I can't get over is, We're Dylan fans, right? The voice, with all its inherent weaknesses, is a given. We all wish he sounded like 1966 again, but that's impossible. In spite of this, we find charm in things like (even) the Christmas album—in part because it's almost brave that he thinks he can pull it off. And I'll be damned if it doesn't still have power and wit and charm. And his phrasing still can't be beat—on the new album as much as anything. Given his vocal limitations, isn't the new album at least well-sung? If you ever liked his singing, why wouldn't you like it now? I honestly don't hear much difference. He's certainly singing his heart out on the new one. He's not phoning it in, is he?

    Even in terms of lyrics, I've been listening to Dylan pretty seriously for years, and to this day I couldn't tell you much about what "Outlaw Blues," "On the Road Again," "From a Buick 6," "4th Time Around," or "Pledging My Time" are about. I don't care what they're about! Are these songs "sincere"? Do all of them cohere into some kind of profound statement? Or are they—heaven forbid—more like pastiches that get by mostly on attitude, voice, rhythm, feeling, and general atmosphere? Hasn't he always been about throwing stuff together quickly—some things stick, other things don't? But if they sound good, who cares?

    And if you think they don't sound good, fine. Except... why does Michael, for one, like "Love & Theft" so much or (mostly) Time Out of Mind, and bits and pieces of so much in between, but dismiss most of the new one as "awful." He doesn't owe us an explanation, but—geez—didn't he at one in his career time spill some ink writing about such masterworks as Down in the Groove and Empire Burlesque? Somehow the new album isn't even worthy of the standard set by those albums? I would love to know why.

    I disagreed, to say the least, with Lester Bangs's review of Desire, but he was certainly right about "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands." No way it took Dylan more than minutes—much less sleepless days and nights—to write this song! And I love that song! And it rings deeply true for me, but it's not because I'm sitting around studying the words and thinking about it. (As I recall, didn't Bangs say in 1976 that Dylan has always been a fake—he used to be good at it and now he's not? Something like that.)

    My point is, I don't see what's so different now. Or I don't hear what's so different. Judging by play-count alone, my ears tell me that the new one ranks as my second-favorite latter-day Dylan album behind "Love & Theft."

  46. Brent....brilliant comments except many Dylan fans love his old man voice and have no desire for a 66 voice ( or 75, 81,etc ) and Empire Burlesque is a great album ( it is another side of Bob Dylan).


  47. grid-patterns, fakes, pastiches, collages, overlays. So? What are real people like? Random thoughts against well-worn paths. He does it well, leaves it open and lets the wind through so that if you want, you can think around. Soon after midnight sounds like a person tryng to write a song. Such a fake! Shame!

  48. as one not shied by stones - nor shy of a few myself - i stand by roy kelly's writings - he sent me away for a month to listen to "tempest" - my returning thoughts are to him - rogue and random - yes till i ran dumb at the mouth/heels of the gathering writing - the writing all-a-gather - till i fall to its coil (as lorenzo fabbrono did or did not say.......our clandestine companion? internal paramour?.....) i am not one for numbers and spells but roy (28th december 2012) can consider that "1 out of 43, not bad" as an unnumbing tempestuous "2" now.......... (peter hope-evans)


  49. I love Dylan's singing on this album. There, I've said it.



  50. I will always agree with you Michael that “Love and Theft” is Dylan’s twilight masterpiece – happy and free flowing, the perfect marriage of music and literature, bouncing and lifting, taking the listener on a journey that reads off the page as well as it plays in the ear. There’s none of that forced murky mood that permeates all but the major tracks on Time Out of Mind, none of the dreariness that permeates all but the best tracks Modern Times.

    I agree too that Christmas In The Heart was a great addition to his catalogue – largely because it revisited the sharp, musical brightness of “Love and Theft”. I look forward to playing it every December.

    Surprising then that we disagree on Tempest, Michael. It is, for me, Dylan’s most interesting album since “Love and Theft” – a long way from perfect, but filled with enough strong and beguiling lyrical and vocal flashes to make it enjoyable and worthy of repeated listens.

    Early Roman Kings was the first track leaked in its entirety, and it put me in a good mood to hear his voice so upfront, with the backing so clean and bright. I liked the lyrics too. It felt like a tiny puzzle, and lines like “I ain’t afraid to make love to a bitch or a hag” or “I was up on Black Mountain the day Detroit fell” were so random and ornery that they made me smile. They read well off the page too, something that lacked in the filler tracks on Modern Times and Together Through Life.

    I was ridiculously pleased then, when the release of the album saw the same sense of odd otherworldliness continued. Duquesne Whistle, Soon After Midnight, Narrow Way, Long and Wasted Years, Early Roman Kings and Tempest are tracks I will go back to again and again. Narrow Way is violent and funny, with some fantastic lines to sink your teeth into.

    The songs feel like sketches, experiments, nowhere near as safe as some of the songs on Modern Times and certainly not as plodding. There is a sense of mystery and humour carried through their words and sustained by their melodies.

    Less so Scarlet Town and Tin Angel, which may be down to the minor chords, but even they contain some nice moments within. The only song I could definitely live without is Roll On John. I have listened to it in every way imaginable, but it’s no less clunky and awkward to me today than it was a year ago.

    It is funny we disagree on this album, where our opinions on “Love and Theft” and Christmas In The Heart match so closely. I wonder if some albums just find us in the right mood. Or if Scott Warmuth’s outstanding detective work has made me appreciate the method in Dylan’s madness all the more.

    Keep up the good work with Outtakes blog Michael. I always look forward to your posts.

    Kind regards,