Monday, May 04, 2009

A Review of the new Bob Dylan

by Scott

(Note: As I don't consider myself a true Dylan afficianado, I'm curious as to what those of you who do consider yourself as such think of his latest- Scott)

For the first time in a decade, Rolling Stone has NOT given a new Bob Dylan album a five star review and hailed it as the best album of the year (but the year isn’t over yet); in fact, the review gives the album *GASP* a mere four stars! But don’t let this fool you, the review itself is mostly glowing (In part I think this is because it’s David Fricke who loves EVERYTHING... or at least always manages to find the silver lining on the cloudiest of albums). Well, the album is not an instant classic, nor is it the best album of the year. However, it is quite good.

I am no Dylan scholar, my favorite albums are his mid-sixties trilogy (Bringing it All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde), beyond that, my knowledge is pretty sporadic: I know the ‘hits’ of his folk era, I like the John Wesley Harding Album, I’m familiar with Blood on the Tracks and Desire and a few songs here and there in between and, lastly, I own his last three albums and I was quite fond of Modern Times.

However, it would seem to me that the only time in his career that Dylan was truly innovative and groundbreaking is when, with those mid-sixties albums, he forged the way for rock music entering its adulthood (The Beatles and Stones helped in this transition as well… but Dylan was a BIG part of this). This is not to say that nothing else Dylan ever did was any good, just that this is the only time he really seemed to be a trailblazer. Together Through Life, along with his previous two albums, Love & Theft and Modern Times, seem to be less concerned with rock’s future than they are with its past; the albums steep themselves in the sounds of the boogie-woogie, blues and country music that were the predecessors of early Rock N’ Roll. However, unlike, say, the White Stripes or, even, T-Bone Burnett’s recent collaboration with Robert Plant and Alison Krause, Raising Sand; Dylan does not seek to contemporize this sound so much as re-create it (In fact, Dylan hasn’t seemed to have much interest in sounding contemporary since Time Out Of Mind).

Keep in mind, I do not intend this as criticism, merely as an observation; the tunes themselves are great. Dylan’s wit as acerbic as always; particularly on the ditty “My Wife’s Home Town” (which turns out to be Hell in case you’re interested). Other highlights include the album opener, “Beyond Here Lies Nothing”, and the darkly driven “Forgetful Heart”; the latter also being the most modern and, therefore, the freshest sounding track on the album.

As always, Dylan has assembled a tight backing band, including Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers' Mike Campbell on guitar, to bring these songs to life and they manage to create a sound that would almost feel more at home in a 1940’s juke joint than a 21st century arena. The band’s secret weapon may, in fact, be (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) the accordion playing by Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo. I’m not sure how to explain, but it adds an interesting, almost exotic quality to the arrangements.

So, in short, I don’t think Dylan is breaking any new ground here, nor is this by any means among his best albums…. Or even the best of his recent albums (Modern Times was much better) but it is pretty darned good.


Jake said...

A lot of people have always said that Bob Dylan is a terrible singer. I could NEVER understand that because in the ;60s he was a GREAT singer. GREAT. One of the top 5 ever, I'd say. And I really liked his '70s voice--a little thinner but still great. And then the 80s voice! That scratchy, cigarette rasp, but still Bob. I can hear his Jokerman wail in my head right now. Then the late '80s brought the wizened old Dylan, sounding like a fuckin' Deep South necromancer, growling out the Oh Mercy album--I'm thinking Man in the Long Black Coat, here. And shit, on a comp my dad bought, Not Dark Yet. Mid-'90s, and that is a great vocal performance. His voice is almost gone but he still holds the tune.

But I have tried listening to the albums since, and man, 2000s Dylan is just...ugh. His voice is PAST gone. It doesn't just break, it periodically devolves down into this primordial gurgle. I can't accept it anymore. It's sad, but I can't.

Plus he's doing way more of the old-timey and blues and those were never my fave Dylan songs. I don't think his voice allows him to write those sprawling ramblers anymore. Sad. Also sad that when he performs live, he just sort of spits out the words to songs. This guy used to be one of the best live performers ever. Man.

Even though I don't like him live anymore, I'm happy that he does still tour all the time. Why? Because he's Bob the FUCK Dylan and he can do whatever he fuckin' wants.

finsof72 said...

*note: after reading this review I Wikipedia-ed Bob Dylan because I wasn't sure who he was, thus standardizing how much consideration my observations on music deserve (aka none).

I feel like it's tough for, um, older singers who had their primes in past decades to make it today because their inherit audience's interest is diminishing. Like my dad loves all the music from back in the day but he hasn't bought an album in years, so I'm thinking that maybe only real music afficianados and fans like to buy the new music from artists of their generation.

Anyway, to me it seems that music "these days" has become more of a business enterprise motivated by image, financial potential, and marketability (hotness) rather than by talent, and thus are becoming a dime a dozen.

I don't really think my post had any point, really, I just felt like spilling everything I think I know about music, which is about as much as Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay know about story structure.

scott91777 said...


Your description of Dylan live pretty much nails my live experience with Dylan... he also rearranges the familiar songs so much that you barely recognize them. He was half-way through "Just Like A Woman" before I realized what it was.

I'll agree with you on Love and Theft not being any good... but I actually really liked Modern Times.


Really? You don't know who Bob Dylan is? That's like not knowing who the Beatles or Elvis are... someone make this boy a mix tape!

By the way, I'm going to start taking tabs on your Derogatory Michael Bay references :)


finsof72 said...

I tend to make one in every review or so. I just posted my Wolverine review (it's actually the first time I'd gone to see a movie for the sole purpose of reviewing it) and don't have any in it but I'm thinking of going back and inserting one into every review. It's kind of like the hidden alien in most of the episodes of South Park.

scott91777 said...


I like your analysis of the Jurassic Park Trilogy complete with flow chart...

and the Manos: Hands of Fate reference in the Wolverine review? Well Done!

Jake said...

Also Scott, don't look now, but I think you qualify as a little bit of a Dylan aficionado. I mean, all his new albums? C'mon man. Admit it!

scott91777 said...


I own Time Out Of Mind because, as you said, it's a really great album. Love and Theft I own, not because I like it (I actually think its pretty bad) but I keep it around because as a momento of seeing Dylan live (that's around the time I saw him and, as you said, even though he's not that great anymore he is Bob Fucking Dylan) Modern Times I genuinely like... other than that... my Gap in Dylan knowledge is HUGE...

I own no albums before Bringing it All Back Home and none between John Wesley Harding and Time Out of Mind... other than an Essential Dylan compilation.

Maybe I'm just misusing the word Afficianado :)

Jake said...

You definitely need to track down Blood on the Tracks. That one rivals Highway and Blonde. I don't really think you need New Morning, which feels like sort of a tweener. But Blood on the Tracks is definitely class. I think I like every song on it (or maybe all but one).

scott91777 said...

I had Blood On The Tracks on my iPod at one point... I'd borrowed it from a friend... but lost it when my iPod crashed last summer. But, yeah, that is a great one too, especially "Shelter from the Storm" and "Tangled Up in Blue".

What about Desire? That's generally considered pretty good and I've always liked "One More Cup Of Coffee" (It's actually my favorite track off the White Stripes First Album... and I like the Dylan version too)

Jake said...

I don't really consider Desire necessary. One More Cup of Coffee is good, but I mean, a classic Dylan album is loaded. Like, New Morning has about 3 or 4 really great songs (Sign on the Window, If Not for You, Day of the Locusts spring to mind) but also some weaker stuff.

For earlier stuff, Another Side of Bob Dylan is really good (My Back Pages, It Ain't Me Babe, Spanish Harlem Incident, All I Really Wanna Do, etc) and Freewheelin' Bob Dylan is good but not as good, I think.

But yeah, basically, Another Side and Blood on the Tracks.

Curt said...

From my perspective, Desire is actually one of Dylan's most consistently interesting efforts. The album's sound is fleshed out by many of the same musicians who took part in Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue tours in the late 1970s (a tour which also saw participation from Allen Ginsberg and Sam Shepard, of all people) and, of course, the proceedings are only enhanced by Emmylou Harris' backing vocals and harmonies.

So, I definitely think there's far more of merit on the LP than "One More Cup of Coffee." In fact, I'm hard pressed to think of a weak track on the album ("Black Diamond Bay," "Isis," and "Mozambique" remain three of Dylan's finest tunes in my humble opinion). Coupled with Blood on the Tracks, I think the album(s) may just mark Dylan's pinnacle as a singer-songwriter.

It's also interesting to note that Desire is the only Dylan ALBUM aside from his new release to feature a co-writer (in the form of Jacques Levy).

Chad Nevett said...

This reminds me of Nick Hornby writing about Dylan and mentioning that in owning the 'essentials' of Dylan's discography, he appears to the average person a HUGE Dylan fan when the big Dylan fans are much more into the man.

As for the new album, it doesn't wow me. Like you, I really, really dug Modern Times, but this one hasn't captured me in the same way. It reminds me a bit of Leonard Cohen circa I'm Your Man and The Future, but only a couple of songs really stand out. Then again, I've only given it a few listens and this could be the sort of album that requires more.

I'm like you in owning mostly the big stuff, albeit with a few noticeable gaps. And, like you, I tend to favour his early electric stuff over everything else. His electric reworking of "I Don't Believe You (She Acts like We Never Have Met)" -- found on the first disc of Biograph is my favourite song of his by far and got me to pick up Another Side to hear the original, which... well, it suffers by comparison.