Print Edition: September 19, 2012
Tempest marks American music pioneer Bob Dylan’s 35th studio album, and his first in three years. His voice is a little raspy and aged, his spirit a little rugged and tired, but he’s still the same Bob Dylan we’ve always known. He proves that, as with a fine wine, age has only made him sweeter. Bob’s still a man who knows his way around the fretboard of a guitar.
The style of the album is reminiscent of Blood on the Tracks and Street-Legal, featuring the folky, twangy guitar notes characteristic of Dylan’s mid to late 1970s output.
The album opens with “Duquesne Whistle” a folk song laden with the sounds of steel guitar and bended notes. It should be noted that as a former anti-war protester, Dylan’s music video for this track is a rather violent one, featuring a man having his legs smashed with a baseball bat.
Dylan can be difficult to understand at times, as his voice has become so thick and gravelly that it seems like he’s merely gurgling instead of singing, but the music is enough to make up for that. When understandable, his voice is rich with experience and wisdom.
The lyrics are clever, full of intelligence and emotion. He evokes imagery of campfire-lit nights and the old American frontier. Elsewhere, he contemplates the memories of loved ones who have left us and brings new life to historical tragedies.
The titular track is a 14-minute song about the sinking of the Titanic. The ballad starts with a classical Irish violin, proceeding to tell the unfortunate tale of the sinking of the ship. Dylan can even be caught dropping references to James Cameron’s 1997 film Titanic, crooning about an artist who fell in love on the ship, but was doomed to die in the sinking.
The final track of the album is “Roll On John,” a tribute to John Lennon, who was a friend of Dylan’s. This song is played in a blues-folk style and employs numerous references to The Beatles. It evokes a certain nostalgia for the old rock n’ roll crowd, and makes one wonder if these are Dylan’s reflective day, if he’s looking back on his early years in the 1960s when he was at the centre of the whole scene.
Tempest is a terrific album that demonstrates that no one is ageless, but Bob Dylan’s work continues to be timeless.