Bob Dylan sounds downtrodden. And it’s perfect.
In his latest release Tempest the 71-year-old Dylan plays the worn, grizzled storyteller, recounting his life and the lives of others in his timeless voice.
Dylan’s infamous rasp plods steadily through the album and betrays more raw emotion than most singers could dream of expressing. None of the songs on Tempest are musical masterpieces, but the lyrics leave lasting impressions on listeners of all ages.
Tempest can be regarded as a collection of stories, an anthology of songs that reflects spirit, as well as conscience. The title track Tempest not only vividly tells the story of the sinking of the Titanic, but also reflects the struggle between classes as the doomed passengers attempted to escape. The song lasts nearly 14 minutes and with vivid imagery tells the stories of individual passengers as it notes the inability of the poorer passengers to escape. Dylan brilliantly juxtaposes the malevolent with the pure by describing a struggle for lifeboat seats (“There were traitors, there were turncoats / broken backs and broken necks”) and a heartwarming story of self-sacrifice (“Jim Dandy smiled / He never learned to swim / Saw the little crippled child / And he gave his seat to him.”).
A few of the songs have the thinly veiled political commentary for which Dylan has been known throughout his career. In “Pay in Blood” he sings, “Our nation must be saved and freed / You’ve been accused of murder, how do you plead?” and “Another politician comin’ out the abyss / another angry beggar blowin’ you a kiss.” The theme of class divide is echoed throughout, especially in the song “Early Roman Kings.”
The music on Tempest recalls simple blues and folk from jolly visits to hole-in-the-wall bars; however, Dylan’s lyrics give the familiar progressions an almost magical feeling. He reminisces about a time long past and of people long gone. The lyrics are fairly dark when compared to Dylan’s previous work. Many songs include death, misfortune and catastrophe, but these heavier moments are interspersed with bits of happiness.
In comparison to his other albums, Dylan’s most recent effort far surpasses Love and Theft (2001) and may generate even greater acclaim than Together Through Life (2009). Dylan does not present anything too new with this record, but its quality exceeds that of the vast majority of hits from today’s artists. Thirty-five albums into his illustrious career, Bob Dylan’s storytelling ability is undiminished and will be enjoyed for ages to come.