Bob Dylan’s Tempest: such stuff as dreams are made on?

Arjun Sajip looks over Dylan's Prospero-us career...

Bob Dylan is 71 years young, with a fierce sense of humour. For over fifty varied (and inconsistent) years, he's been making music, with some of the greatest having been produced this century. The raves that accompanied early hearings of ‘Tempest' are unjustified, but to listen to him here is still quite something, as he runs through eight songs and limps through two in his Satchmo-esque growl.

There are weaknesses. The title track is a disaster (appropriately enough, given its subject is the Titanic). His Lennon eulogy Roll on John, though gorgeous, proves that he's better at put-downs than at praise. In most songs, more musical variation would help avoid repetitiveness; and though the production shimmers, the band isn't the incandescent beast it was on ‘Love and Theft' in 2001.

Generally, though, the man's on fire. His vocal phrasing brilliant throughout, Bob spews insults (to hear a man in his eighth decade denouncing a "flat-chested junkie whore" is amusing) and plays Romeo (to hear a man in his eighth decade whispering, "I'm gonna have to take my head and bury it between your breasts", even more so) though overall he proves that he can't be easily pinned down. All the songs, save for bouncy opener Duquesne Whistle, have undercurrents of murder and revenge, with the 9-minute Shakespearean tale Tin Angel demonstrating that no musician tells stories better than Dylan, and that few can mix comedy and tragedy so skilfully. "Get up, stand up, you greedy-lipped wench", spits a wronged husband about to be murdered. The album is more comical than it is scary.

Those who abandoned the Bobwagon after 1976's ‘Desire' – and those who just can't stand his voice – might not find much new here. The lyrics of this album are his best since the phenomenal ‘Love and Theft', the best of his latter-day output and, indeed, one of his all-time best. But when it comes to 14-minute-plus epics, I'd take Highlands over Tempest any day.

Arjun Sajip

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