I’m not going to pretend I ‘know’ Bob Dylan, cite my years of listening to his music, experiencing life through his eyes as life happens, buying every album as it comes out, sitting in a circle of friends awkwardly, almost shamefully, muttering conceits that are far from their intentions (and aside from the ‘point’) in hopes that my assumptions about his inner-workings are close to the truth. I’m 20. I’ve inherited ‘Dylan retrospect’ that allows me to box-in his progression, growth, life’s work with an unintended but inevitable close-minded ease and confidence. I will never ‘know’ Dylan, let alone what he’s talking about. It seems impractical.
Yet Tempest feels like an invitation to the party at the top of Dylan’s life, ignoring the various generational perspectives of his work. The hired band is a somewhat freshly Bob-branded primitive six, seven piece blues act that sounds like a one-and-done backing band (too country; too folky) rolling through Chess Records circa 1954. He juxtaposes this vibe with his sometimes suggestive and serious tone paired with a grinning jest in his narrative, yielding a complex web of inner-album relationships (“Duquesne Whistle” seems intimately removed from “Pay In Blood”, like two cousins reconnecting, loathing their time and place at a family gathering).
He so often deals in themes that overarch everything on Tempest: death, desire, love, that by the time the 14 minute title track about the Titanic sets in, I want to ignore the larger metaphor of the epic at hand and dive into its images–its flesh rather than its genius–a feeling evoked by some cuts off of Blood on the Tracks, only this time a little farther from Dylan’s heart, and much looser in stride; cold and dark, almost.
Tempest is a piece of reflection so well-rounded and fair that it’s honestly hard for me to believe anyone would attempt to discuss its intentions, its thoughts. It stands nearly untouchable, separate, from his catalogue (though maybe not so different sonically from Together Through Life and Modern Times) in a way that suggests further progression and growth, almost begging: “you think you know me?”
Originally posted on Solid Stated