Bob Dylan – Tempest
Bob Dylan is one of those artists who will stand in the ranks of immortals when it comes to music. He has single-handedly influenced almost every artist in rock music, folk music, even pop, for decades and decades. Starting with classic albums like Freewheelin’, Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde; onto his middle albums, like Desire, and the incomparable Blood on the Tracks. Even his newer albums since the 90s have been spectacular (Love and Theft, Modern Times, Time Out of Mind, and Together Through Life). 35 studio albums, 50 years, and his influence is immeasurable.
But this is Tempest, not any of those. This album is much, much, much darker than any of the previously mentioned albums. Death is a recurring and often spoken topic. Dylan is on top of his game when it comes to lyrics and storytelling, shaping his voice into a gnashing, attacking voice, rather than his 60′s prophet tone. This has very little to do with age and a lot to do with the album. Most of the concepts and stories featured on this release are about the negative side. The 14-minute title track is about the Titanic crash, “Pay In Blood’s” chorus line explains itself, etc., etc.
While the lyrical matter doesn’t differ from the theme, the music is something that does change. Different styles that are exuded are jazz, rock, blues, and folk, of course. Each one has their own distinct style, never blending between. Dylan and his backing band sculpt a masterful piece of music on every single track. Particular tracks that are musically perfect are “Tin Angel”, “Duquesne Whistle” and “Early Roman Kings”.
“Duquesne Whistle’ is a hell-of-a-starter, pulling you into a dream of bluesy beats and hooky vocals. Smattering drums tap along with an excellent guitar solo that ends the track. “Soon After Midnight” and “Long and Wasted Years” start the downbeat nature by slowing the entire pace down. Exuding the late night jazzy feel, Dylan rasps some heartfelt grunts and sighs. “Narrow Way” and “Pay In Blood” are hellbent rockers with distorted guitars and pulsating drums.
“Early Roman Kings” is an essential part of Tempest, and struts along with heavy blues influences and a rock-esque backbone. Kicking one of the best grooves on the album, Dylan talks about the early Roman Kings.
They’re peddlers and they’re meddlers
They buy and they sell
They destroyed your city
They’ll destroy you as well
They’re lecherous and treacherous
A-hell bent for leather
Each of ‘em bigger
Than all men put together
“Tin Angel” is a long, developed journey Dylan explores using three characters – The Boss, Henry Lee, and The Wife. Creating the perfect atmosphere of an dastardly dark track, the upright bass echoes off of Dylan’s rasps.
The title track, “Tempest”, is a 45-verse, 14-minute epic about the Titanic crash. Even mentioning Leo (Leonardo DiCaprio, who was the male lead in the James Cameron film.) is off-hand, as if he was actually part of the story. The song speaks on and on about the crash, and Dylan tells the story in the perfect delivery.
The album’s end, “Roll On John”, is, by far, one of the most emotional tracks ever written by anyone. Dylan sings about John Lennon, his one time compatriot, and his sorrow for him being passed on. Every bit of the tribute is a painstaking, heart-breaking, and incredulously tear-inducing. Throughout the song, there are lines upon lines of reference to Lennon’s songs or life – whether it’s his “Bagism” speech or direct quotes from his songs. “I heard the news today, oh boy.” Nothing – nothing could dethrone the amount of depression and sorrow Dylan spits out in that one line.
In the last verse of the song, Dylan references William Blake’s “The Tyger”.
Tyger, tyger burning bright
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
In the forests of the night
Cover ‘em over and let him sleep
Dylan accepts Lennon’s death and implores to let him sleep. As Dylan sings the last refrain, you can tell he’s reserved and vulnerable. He has finished a masterpiece.