I'm having a great deal of difficulty enjoying most of Tempest, which is why I'm not writing about it yet. In the meantime here's an affecting combination of one of the good tracks from Modern Times with a collection of someone's old photos. And if you think as you watch that they're getting a bit boring, check out the jacket that suddenly appears just after 3:30:

I found the video on a blog run by Jim Cody (Professor of English at Brookdale Community College, Lincroft, New Jersey) here.


  1. Tried to play it but it just seesms so terribly weak in comparison to "Love And theft" and "Tempest". very, very hard to get beyond these lines:

    "The buyin' power of the proletariat's gone down
    Money's gettin' shallow and weak"


    Bono and Sting would even curl up in shame at that..............

  2. The jacket's a definite winner! Reminds me of Paul McShane in Hi di Hi, for some reason. That song isn't bad, but like a lot of Modern Times, it seems too carefully sculpted to impress, almost like he wants to rubber-stamp the acclaim he got for L&T, but of course, the lyrics on MT are like a shot in the foot, for the main part.

    I would contrast that very unfavourably with Tempest, where he seems committed to writing strong songs, delving deeper lyrically than at any time since L&T, stretching himself out a bit. It sounds more like a great Dylan album than MT, and I only have a couple of songs which haven't grown on me yet - Pay in Blood and Roll On John.

    But I'll be interested to read your thoughts, when they settle. Bizarre video, by the way. Love old photos, though...

  3. Hi Michael
    Keep trying with Tempest, 'Narrow Way' has a great riff, ' Roll on John' is so undylanesque but I take it as a heartfelt tribute and I'm surprised that 'Scarlet Town' hasn't attracted comment for the uncle Tom uncle Bill line.
    Anon . You gotta admire anyone who puts the word proletariat in a song. Bono and Sting met a prole recently and berated him for not being sympathetic enough to the plight of the Amazon rain forest.

  4. Thank you-the expressions of humanity in both song & photos work well together. A quality, I believe is largely missing from 'Tempest'. Whilst maybe I will grow to love it, at the moment it is the first Dylan album I have ever disliked (I even played 'Down in the Groove' incessantly when it was released!). Some of the songs are a little reminiscent of his mid 60s songs ( e.g.tombstone blues, Ballad of a Thin Man) but without inspiration, skill and, again, humanity.
    I was moved by 'Roll on, John' on the first couple of plays, but the shoddy lyrics are very disappointing ...it could have been so much better. Maybe he will produce another brilliant album, but this is not one. Although in his interviews he may have always been less than honest (In the recent RS interview he also sounds gratuitously nasty).I have always particularly valued the profound honesty of his songs, and, in his voice;for me this is another crucial quality missing on 'Tempest'.
    I look forward to seeing you at the Guildhall in Derby.

  5. Jack, I tend to agree with you about the album. Apart from the title track - the only one most reviewers demurred about, generally claiming that it was too long - which I don't find too long at all and which I'm touched and thrilled to find has both humane touches and much of the spirit of, and hallmarks of, a folk song. It has an epic quality and moves as if through deep and dark waters itself, it delights in its own myth-making and throws a few faux-naive, McGonagallesque lines in amongst some lovely and magically evocative ones. Unlike 'Scarlet Town' and 'Tin Angel', which lean on folk songs with what seems to me unskilled and suffocating heaviness.

    I know there are people who read this blog who've been waiting to read a proper critique from me, but at the moment I can't do it. A combination of my "advance copy" arriving after the release date, my dislike of most of the album and the imminence of my UK tour of BOB DYLAN & THE POETRY OF THE BLUES events has conspired against it.

    Glad to hear you'll be coming to Derby Guildhall on Tuesday October 16. If you see me, say hello.

    1. Michael, The second edition of Song and Dance Man is one of the great books on Dylan, anticipating much of what Ricks does so well also. However, as a fellow Bob fan and also a longtime fan of your work, I have often wondered if you have spent too much time with Bob, thinking about Bob, etc. to really hear Bob anymore. What your post above says, in effect, is that you are too busy talking about Bob (your view of him) to hear him anymore. That said, thanks for your wonderful work on Bob through the years and I hope someday you will be able to hear him again.
      All best, Ish

  6. McHenry Boatride02 October, 2012

    @Anonymous #1 - Bono or Sting would never have written those lines; they haven't the imagination to do so or the authority carry it off if they did.

    I find myself listening to "Tempest" time after time, which I guess means something. I think that he is playing games with those who accuse him of plagiarising obscure writers. This time he is quite unapologetically borrowing from the old ("Scarlet Town", "Tin Angel") and the more modern ("Roll on John"). The title track reminds me strongly of "Tom Joad" with its interweaving of fact, fiction, imagination and a popular film script. I look forward to the outtakes from this session when they are finally released.

    I really can't get into all the "is it his best since xxxx arguments". I enjoy listening to it and I ask for little more. The writers and critics will miss him when he's gone.

  7. Michael, I'm surprised that you do not like most of the album. I believe the album is a success, but after reading your Art of Bob Dylan, Encyclopedia and blogs, I suspected that you would not love DW, S after M, ERK and would think that Narrow Way was too long. I did think that you would like the lyrics of Scarlet Town, but find the music too murky and similar to Ain't Talkin and Forgetful Heart. I thought that you would love: Long and Wasted Years, Pay in Blood, Tin Angel and Tempest. Lastly, I thought you would like Roll on John and compare it to Lenny Bruce, which I believed you referred to as an "endearingly bad song" or something like that. I find it a nice ending to a fine Bob Dylan album.

  8. Wholeheartedly agree about the title track being the standout on this album - and a refreshing return to the discipline of long narrative writing. Some people are wildly overpraising the album (best since BOTT, as good as BOB, heh heh heh), yes, but surely it has more to offer than a single track. I am particularly fond of Long and Wasted Years, Soon After Midnight, and Tin Angel - the latter being the other example of the narrative writing that I've missed so much; reminds me of something Fairport did long ago. His best LP surely, since "Love and Theft" (which might not be saying much, but I'm just grateful to get a modern Bob album with something of worth on it).


  9. A thrilling album that kicks, snarls and moves in equal measure. His definitive 21st century statement.

    A minor miracle.



  10. Say what you want, but Tempest is the "Blonde on Blonde" of modern Bob, only this time it´s more "dark" than blonde

  11. Elmer Gantry03 October, 2012


    Have we really a stage where a song whose lyrics rarely reach above third-rate doggerel set to a tediously kitsch unvarying waltz tune which Jimmy Shand probably would have rejected can be described as the stand-out track on a Dylan album...

    In my opinion, Scarlet Town is a far superior song.on what i find a generally poor album, distinguished only by its frequently mean-spirited and nasty tone..

    Had to listen to some Phil Ochs immediately after listening to it, as an antidote to its spiritual and musical bankruptcy...

  12. What a shock, Michael, that you don't like the album. Who'd have thought?

  13. Anonymous03 October, 2012
    What a shock, Michael, that you don't like the album. Who'd have thought?
    That seems rather unwarranted given that Michael was so keen on "Christmas In The Heart".
    I thought he'd love this equally if not more, so I called it wrong. Apologies. I think it's the first time Michael and I have disagreed on an album's relative worth since we met. Oh well, had to happen sometime.

    Rather than name calling though, I think what would be more constructive would to be ask for reasons why. Why someone who likes "L&T" and CITH (as I do) and doesn't like MT and TTL (as I do not) finds so little to enjoy here.
    this strikes me as a non-sequitur:

    "I'm having a great deal of difficulty enjoying most of Tempest, which is why I'm not writing about it yet."

    Surely that is exactly why you should be writing about it Michael when it is otherwise surrounded by so much praise. I love to read or hear contrary views - there is only anodyne comfort in reading that someone agrees with my view, there's much to be learnt in taking on board opposing viewpoints. Also, if you have by now changed your view we'll never know why you were "struggling."

    Yours, Homer

  14. "Elmer Gantry03 October, 2012

    Have we really a stage where a song whose lyrics rarely reach above third-rate doggerel set to a tediously kitsch unvarying waltz tune which Jimmy Shand probably would have rejected can be described as the stand-out track on a Dylan album..."

    What a strange question. Have you been off-planet for a few decades?

  15. I think "Tempest" is a serviceable enough album in terms of Dylan as an ongoing business. It ticks enough "heritage" boxes for the (albeit shallow) music press cronies, it sounds fashionably tough, it has simple riff-driven backing that Dylan will be able to mumble his way through live without too much concern about getting the words in the right order (and as they are a fairly random patchwork of other people's words, does it even matter what order he sings them in anyway?). It's not a horrible record in the least - it sounds quite good, in point of fact. But...it is utterly charmless. Utterly fake. More empty than any Bob Dylan record I have ever heard. Having said that, his singing is a revelation. I love it. So what can ya do?

  16. I think "Tempest" is a serviceable enough album in terms of Dylan as an ongoing business. It ticks enough "heritage" boxes for the (albeit shallow) music press cronies, it sounds fashionably tough, it has simple riff-driven backing that Dylan will be able to mumble his way through live without too much concern about getting the words in the right order (and as they are a fairly random patchwork of other people's words, does it even matter what order he sings them in anyway?). It's not a horrible record in the least - it sounds quite good, in point of fact. But...it is utterly charmless. Utterly fake. More empty than any Bob Dylan record I have ever heard. Having said that, his singing is a revelation. I love it. So what can ya do?

  17. Elmer Gantry04 October, 2012


    Wouldn't agree with the last few decades comment - to my mind, the major decline in Dylan's songwriting (not counting the mid-80s slump)comes after Love and Theft.

    In my view (I know Michael disagrees with me on this), Time out of Mind was Dylan's last great album, as it sustained a consistent mood rather than being a grab-bag collection of songs.

    Should add that while I quite like 'Scarlet Town' the effect of it for me is somewhat spoiled by the gratuitously nasty reference to the 'flat-chested junky whore' - a line which, in my view, belongs more on the Jerry Springer show than on a Dylan album.

    Also am partial to the less portentous songs on the album - I like the band's subtle playing on 'Duquesne Whistle' and there is a nice Johnny-Aceish late night feeling to 'Soon after Midnight.'

    as for the rest, I agree with the comments in the post immediately above...

  18. Elmer Gantry04 October, 2012


    Should add that the shmaltzy Oirish quality to the song, The Tempest, made me think that Barry Fitzgerald might turn up in the video playing an Irish priest.

    Having grown up in Ireland - and being a fan of Irish folk music generally (at least in its Planxty, Bothy Boys, Joe heaney & Seamus Ennis variety0 - I can think of few forms of music as excruciating as the so-called "Irish waltz'...

    Would add that the snide references to 'harlots', 'bitches', 'hags' and other casual varieties of misogyny evident on the new album sent me back to an earlier, greater, and far more humane Dylan song, "Chimes of Freedom' with its lines:

    In the wild cathedral evening the rain unraveled tales
    For the disrobed faceless forms of no position
    Tolling for the tongues with no place to bring their thoughts
    All down in taken-for granted situations
    Tolling for the deaf an' blind, tolling for the mute
    For the mistreated, mateless mother, the mistitled prostitute
    For the misdemeanor outlaw, chased an' cheated by pursuit
    An' we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.

    I know which Dylan I prefer.

  19. I think the album is flawed and messy in certain ways but still feel it is easily his most exciting release since Love and Theft. I'm surprised that the one track you do single out for praise (Tempest itself) is possibly the worst track on the album - overlong, clumsily written, and musically monotonous. There is some fine work on the album - Soon After Midnight, Scarlet Town, Pay in Blood, Long and Wasted Years - and, thankfully, less of the undistinguished, interchangeable, plodding 12-bar blues that have littered his recent releases. It certainly isn't a milestone release (in the way that I felt Love and Theft was), but it is a strong, vital, and energized work.

  20. Elmer Gantry04 October, 2012


    The following quotes from the great Russian pianist and conductor, Vladimir Ashkenazy, about the difference between Beethoven and Mahler, reflect a good deal of how I feel about Tempest:

    'But Mahler is too self-absorbed for Ashkenazy's taste, as he explains when asked why the composer is so much more popular now than he was 50 years, or even 25 years, ago.

    "There is something [in his music] that communicates to people," Ashkenazy says. "Mahler's music is basically about himself, all the time. Perhaps because of that, people identify themselves with the same complexes, the same suffering, the same idiosyncrasies that Mahler had.

    "Mahler had a difficult life. His marriage wasn't successful. His children died. He was a Jew in a very anti-Semitic environment. And you can hear his suffering in his music. People hear this and they feel, 'I have suffered, too."'

    There's a pause, punctuated by an impish smile. "I like Beethoven very much. Beethoven suffered not less than Mahler and probably more. He was deaf for most of his professional life. He couldn't hear what he had composed. Can you imagine that?

    "Mahler was better off [financially]. But Beethoven always had to struggle with money. On the premiere of his ninth symphony, Beethoven made enough money to pay for one month's rent.

    "Beethoven was alone and deaf. But he never, ever complained in his music. He was above it. He saw [suffering] as part of the existence of life. There are not enough words to describe the importance of Mahler. But the philosophy of existence expressed in Beethoven's music is more to my understanding of the world and life."

    What is missing from Tempest is, I think, the humanity and the search for transcendence that suffuses late Beethoven - in those brilliant string quarters and piano sonatas. they also, of course, include space for anger and rage, which B. was not ever afraid to express, but there is a broadness of vision which Bob seems to have lost...

  21. Not as good as TOOM which I did consider one of his best albums ever. No individual tracks as good as Mississippi or Workingman's Blues but an album where I do not wish to skip a single track and which gets better on every hearing. I think Bob has put more work into this album than any for some time and it is very deep lyrically, open to numerous interpretations, and will be analysed for years to come.

  22. Geez, some Dylan fans are hard to please these days!

    As for the never-ending recent criticism about authenticity or plagiarism, Dylan actually made a good point in the RS interview: if it were easy to borrow words from 19th century poets and elsewhere, put them into a "random patchwork," as galloping major says, and turn them into songs that even many detractors concede still _sound_ pretty good, many more people would be doing it.

    This album is a blast. It's fun, even funny at times. It has a wide diversity of musical styles. It has emotional resonance. We would have killed for a Dylan record this good, this consistent back in 1986 or so. And it doesn't follow to me that someone who likes "L&T" or the Christmas album (and dislikes TTL or MT) would have a hard time enjoying this one. To my ears, whatever else it is, this LP represents a major upgrade from TTL and MT.

  23. I agree with Mr Homer of Cambridge. One doesn't have to like something to write about it. Don't be a wussy or a pussy.

    Greetings from the gastronomic wasteland of Georgia.

  24. Intrigued that comments have to be 'approved'...By whom?

  25. This is interesting!! Michael, I deliberately "googled" to find your response to this CD, and was gratified to find that you had delayed writing about it. Because, man, it is a difficult album, and I don't know what to make of it. For instance, my favorite at the moment is "Scarlet Town" - but not because of the lyric, but because of the mood created by the band, and also by the vocal melody and Dylan's phrasing - his ability to phrase a song remains extraordinary. Listening to this song without paying attention to the lyric is a wonderful thing. Lyrically, though, there are so many phrases that just make me shudder. Here, on Tempest, Dylan is like a book writer who has decided to forgo an editor - or, maybe, a songwriter who has decided that he does not have to be all that careful about his lyric because he has learned that a song is, well, just a song, and bursts of lyrical inconsistency can be equated with depth or mystery. It's an odd thing, isn't it? I have rarely paid so much attention to a Dylan album, have rarely been so disturbed by a Dylan album, rarely been so puzzled by a Dylan album. There are some great things here, but also some great and glaring problems - and one wants to ask, "What's happening, Mr. Dylan? I am concerned for you."

  26. Ish: My tour planning started in February. There's a great deal of work involved in organising it all. The album came out when the workload was heaviest because the tour was imminent. I'd been promised an advance copy, precisely so that I could live with the album before writing. The "advance copy" arrived after the album's release date. Had I known that would happen, I'd have ordered it from Amazon. But in any case, it's also a matter of where you are in your life. When you're young, and Bob is fresher - and he was, objectively, too - a new album's arrival would mean you dropped everything and listened immediately and repeatedly. No-one with a life and in later life can do that. Great pseudonym, by the way.

    Homer & Duncan: I didn't mean I wasn't writing about it because I didn't like it. As I said, I was having trouble liking it. I was having trouble with it altogether, but the world and his wife was jumping up and down drooling and gasping with enthusiasm about it, so it gave me pause. I'm still having trouble getting to grips with it: with the rarely unremitting expectoration of a voice, the gargle used so indiscriminately and meaninglessly, as if he really can't, or can't be bothered, to make any other noise (where once he used it to special, alert effect - as on the word "rotten" in "Don't use no green or rotten wood", to enact the breaking effect of rottenness on wood, in Copper Kettle: a peerless vocal performance on the album Greil Marcus dismissed as "shit"). I'm still struggling, too, with the numbing monotony of the machinoid band on most of the album, and with what still sounds to me a graceless animus that seems to run like bile through the general murk of the songs. So. I write these comments provisionally. Considered assessment takes longer, and I'm not ready for it and I haven't time. You know quite well that I don't have to like an album to write about it (I'm often howled down for "being negative" about his work - a contemporary crime, apparently); but I do have to have spent a decent amount of time on it.

    Elmer: yes, I find the "flat-chested junkie whore" line and the bit about bitches and hags excruciating - not only unpleasant but ill-judged and clumsy - and yes, those lines from Chimes of Freedom came to my mind too.

    Brent: hard to please?!? Bob Dylan has the easiest critical time of any performer or songwriter alive. He's surrounded by sycophants who tell him everything he does is wonderful, critics like Robert Hilburn who rush their 5-star reviews into print before they can have had time to digest or think about them with any kind of detachment or calm, and fans who respond to any negative comment with a level of hate-filled vituperation matched only by those who comment from the fringes of the Republican/Tea Party/survivalist contingents whenever an American liberal dares to say anything.

    Bob: they have to be "approved" by me (not my choice of verb, by the way, but Blogger's) because otherwise a tiresome amount of spam, illiterate abuse and general stupidity would get through and be a burden on genuine comment contributors and readers.

  27. Still no London gig tsk tsk

  28. I'd love to have included a London date. It just didn't work out. Again, as you imply. I shall be trying to get a good one next year.

  29. "And it doesn't follow to me that someone who likes "L&T" or the Christmas album (and dislikes TTL or MT) would have a hard time enjoying this one. "

    that inference was mine and but I meant it diametrically opposite to this. I meant:

    It would be interesting to discover "why someone who likes "L&T" or the Christmas album (and dislikes TTL or MT) would have a hard time enjoying this one" - because the very opposite would be expected.

  30. Rambling Gambling Gordon -

    To object to a line because it’s artistically ham-fisted is one thing, but whence this lifting of the powdered handkerchief to the nose in the presence of language that is supposedly an offence to one’s sensibilities?
    Maybe he should have sung about a modestly-endowed female sex worker with drug issues.

    1. Your scornful re-write shows how completely you miss the point, and the "powdered hankerchief" metaphor is absurd. If the song were describing a sordid reality imaginatively, or as accurately as possible, and therefore in good faith either way, that would be fine. But Dylan's song indulges in a too personally engaged editorialising. Its "flat-chested" is a sneer, not an acute observation; its "whore" is, in this spat-out context, swaggeringly contemptuous. The narrator's inhumane contempt is what's an offence - and not to my sensibilities as such but to my sense of what works in a song. In other words, this one has the same fault, if more briefly, as Dylan knew lay at the heart of 'Ballad In Plain D'. The animus sounds personal and trashes the artistic detachment creative work should aspire to.

  31. I love the lyric "play it for my flat-chested junkie whore." Scarlet Town is obviously a hell, fallen world song. The lyric is appropriate for the song. It would not fit in with and is completely different from the feeling you are supposed to get from Chimes of Freedom. Tempest is in a large part commenting on contemporary individuals navigating their way through a corrupt world where most people and institutions have sold out. The present time is different from the time in which Dylan wrote Chimes of Freedom. I do not believe that Dylan wrote that lyric in Scarlet Town to make you respond with a positive feeling or a feeling of superiority to that poor woman, but with a feeling of disgust and despair.

  32. I find his singing in the main quite wonderful on this album. Committed and engaged with a variety of different voices inhabiting the same work. Wonderful. Immaculately recorded too (take a bow Mr. Litt).

  33. 'critics...who rush their 5-star reviews into print before they can have had time to digest or think about them with any kind of detachment or calm...'

    Yes, all this automatic fawning is tiresome - and I think it can lead to a more generalised uncritical response among listeners. There is a sense of people so desperately wanting Bob to put out something truly great and/or significant that they seize on material that may be perfectly good (though not great) and smother it in superlatives. MT, for example, is a reasonable, well-played album on which a respect for - and broad knowledge of - American musical forms is much in evidence. The songs convince musically/instrumentally, but the lyrical sentiment can seem forced and muddled. I find much of it very enjoyable, but stop short of crying 'masterpiece' as each new track unfolds.

    That said, I think Tempest genuinely has something about it. 'Long and Wasted Years' is a song I find remarkable and moving. 'Tin Angel' is extraordinary: one can overlook its imperfections (even its silliness) because there's so much to enjoy about the vocal delivery. Bob sounds engaged, playful, real. The vocal on 'Tempest' is also a joy, accentuating the rhythm of the song beautifully, giving it an infectious (and rather ironic) buoyancy. 'Soon After Midnight' and 'Duquesne Whistle' are beautifully played and delivered with aplomb. 'Roll on John' I could do without, though, and 'Pay in Blood' sounds like a paranoid coked-up hangover from the '80s. Overall,though, there's a spirit, an alive-ness to the album that was missing on MT and TTL. Even when he's faking it on 'Tempest' (which could be a lot of the time) he's more generous of his interpretative gifts than on those previous albums: more willing, you might say, to convince. On this record, I feel the presence of the artist, even of the man - not merely the long-dead souls conjured from their crumbling tombs. It's an odd record, but a fine one.

  34. Regarding the criticism that there is a mean spirited streak and general nastiness running through the album, I can't agree. Sure, there is violence depicted and hinted at together with swear words and lines/language that may upset those of a particularly political correct disposition but in truth, when viewed as a whole, I find this a warm record. That feeling is propelled by Dylan's singing which is just marvellous and sweeps me away every time. You can sense a smile behind the vocal and a feeling that Dylan is absolutely loving giving these songs the conviction and commitment they deserve. Even the three tracks where the voice isn't up to scratch (D Whistle, Pay In Blood and Roll on John) aren't fatally compromised as a result. The bile somehow suits Pay In Blood and Roll on John retains a sincerity and intimacy that allows the track to work as a wonderfully private coda after the mass destruction and panoramic sweep of the title track.

    As for the musical content, I'd say it's a step up from Modern Times and there is much to admire. D. Whistle has plenty going on in the musical stakes and that helps carry Dylan's destroyed vocal over the finshing line. There is a charm and warmth to that (minor) track that serves as a lovely introduction to the album before we get to the meatier stuff. In musical terms, Scarlet Town is just exquisite. No other word for it. And what of those gorgeous notes at the start of Roll on John? Beautiful. That all said, I'd prefer a greater musical variation to Narrow Way, ERK and Tin Angel. I'm not sure we can blame the band for that though. I can only assume they are playing to instruction and Dylan has taken a firm decision to make the arrangements minimal and not have musical interludes, bridges, extensive guitar solos etc. The centrepoint of this album is clearly the voice, recorded beautifully high up in the mix and the songs, particularly those with minimal arrangements, succeed or fail on the strenght or otherwise of his singing. He must know this and the stakes are raised as a result. His delivery of Tin Angel and Tempest are simply magnificent and compel from start to finish. Narrow Way's vocal (so silky smooth and searingly restrained in places) glides over the minimal music so effectively that in tandem with those dynamite couplets, his best in a very long time with this type of song, I'd have it at the very top of the pile of his 21st century bar blues shuffles. Lonesome Day Blues had been my previous favourite of this species but Narrow Way, even with that musical minimalism, eclipses it in my view.

    All in all, this is a wonderful work that I've listened to endless times over the last month and the feeling lingers more and more that it has serious staying power.


    Judas Priest

    1. You explain your take on the album really well. I wish I could agree with it...

  35. Below is a link to my favourite review of Tempest to date. Passionately written by someone who generally has serious problems with all Dylan's post Desire work. Tempest has proven an exception.




  36. Michael, I came of age in the '80s. The first Dylan album I owned was—I kid you not—"Empire Burlesque." I quickly discovered and fell in love with his back-catalog, of course. My point is that I remember a 15- or 20-year period in which his critical reputation suffered mightily. Such was the temper of the times that "Oh Mercy!" was hailed as a major comeback. I'm sure it's the case that since Time Out of Mind, there's been an overreaction in the other direction, but still... I certainly like Tempest a helluva lot more than Oh Mercy! If you like Dylan, and you like Love & Theft, and you like the 13-minute song that occupies a major part of the new album, it's not clear to me why you would have a hard-time liking the album. So I look forward to reading you review.

    I don't know that Dylan has the "easiest time" with the critics. There's still Bruce Springsteen, after all. ;-)

  37. Even all those years ago, as Joan Baez observed, Bob was surrounded by parasites and sycophants. Now, more than ever, it has become a hazardous practice to stand forward as a naysayer, at least on sites like Expecting Rain. I think I preferred the prophet of the end times we had in the eighties to early nineties. He seems to have gone beyond a vision that saw the world as damned but which longed for a redeemer; his landscapes now are desolate and filled with the damned, his world utterly without redemption, his narrators surviving in a ruthless world by surrendering their humanity. Does this mean that Dylan himself has lost his humanity, his compassion? Maybe not, but I think Dylan has learnt that there is an audience there for him that embraces this kind of despair, mistaking it for insight or wisdom, so he allows it to fuel his art. It certainly seems to be paying off, in the crudest sense. I am glad you mentioned Self Portrait, Michael, and the wonderful Copper Kettle. In all honesty, I wouldn't trade that single track for all the work Dylan has put out since Time Out of Mind. I find it astounding that some compare his latest work to his earlier masterpieces. Tempest, Modern Times and Together Through Life pale beside the likes of Planet Waves, New Morning, and even the best cuts on Self Portrait, let alone any of his major works. Jon

    1. Agreed. (Much abuse follows when I say such things, though. You might wonder why some people's defence of contemporary Dylan needs to be so rabid.)

  38. I remember the astonishment I felt when I first read Shakespeare. I expected to receive a powerful esthetic pleasure, but having read, one after the other, works regarded as his best: “King Lear,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Hamlet” and “Macbeth,” not only did I feel no delight, but I felt an irresistible repulsion and tedium, and doubted as to whether I was senseless in feeling works regarded as the summit of perfection by the whole of the civilized world to be trivial and positively bad, or whether the significance which this civilized world attributes to the works of Shakespeare was itself senseless. My consternation was increased by the fact that I always keenly felt the beauties of poetry in every form; then why should artistic works recognized by the whole world as those of a genius,—the works of Shakespeare,—not only fail to please me, but be disagreeable to me? For a long time I could not believe in myself, and during fifty years, in order to test myself, I several times recommenced reading Shakespeare in every possible form, in Russian, in English, in German and in Schlegel’s translation, as I was advised. Several times I read the dramas and the comedies and historical plays, and I invariably underwent the same feelings: repulsion, weariness, and bewilderment. At the present time, before writing this preface, being desirous once more to test myself, I have, as an old man of seventy-five, again read the whole of Shakespeare, including the historical plays, the “Henrys,” “Troilus and Cressida,” the “Tempest,” “Cymbeline,” and I have felt, with even greater force, the same feelings,—this time, however, not of bewilderment, but of firm, indubitable conviction that the unquestionable glory of a great genius which Shakespeare enjoys, and which compels writers of our time to imitate him and readers and spectators to discover in him non-existent merits,—thereby distorting their esthetic and ethical understanding,—is a great evil, as is every untruth. Leo Tolstoy

  39. Michael

    I have followed your blogs for a few years and I find it difficult to see how you can describe the opinions of people who enjoy Dylan's late work as "rabid" and "much abuse follows"..."maybe I'm too sensitive or..."


  40. Very interesting quote there from old Leo Tolstoy. It proves that even the best of us can have a blind spot. But looking at the reactions to this album, it's very divisive, although mainly people are favourable. On one side, those who think it's the best album in a long time, it shows an engaged and involved Dylan, singing bare and digging deep, writing narratives, and still containing a few shocks.

    The other side has gone to the opposite extreme of saying that a single song off Self Portrait (no less) is greater than the whole album Tempest. I won't reach for obviousness and wonder if the truth lies in between, because my own feeling is deeply in favour of this record, with just an aversion to the final track (born no doubt of my aversion to John Lennon, but also due to the simplicity and lack of sublety in the lyrics).

    But I do agree about the 'flat-chested junkie whore' line, and indeed, that final verse of 'Scarlet Town.' The verse is superfluous and the line is incongruous, to be generous about it. But there aren't many missteps on this disc, and Dylan seems supremely confident. On 'Narrow Way', I agree with Judas Priest - it's a great song of its type. I wondered if it could be shorter, but I'd be loathe to suggest how. Every verse is relevant. I also like the band on this album, but I don't think they're as loose or expressive as the L&T band, which is my favourite Dylan band of any.

    Michael, you said above that you like the title song - and I like your assessment, it's spot on, for me. The title song has epic qualities, but you said of Tin Angel and Scarlet Town that they "lean on folk songs with what seems to me unskilled and suffocating heaviness." 'Tempest' leans on old folk songs too, to the extent that the melody and some verses are borrowed, and the idea is of course, not new. But you find this less suffocating and unskilled? I don't dispute it, but I wonder if you could explain the difference. For you, is it like the difference between borrowings on L&T, and then MT?

    I happen to like Tin Angel, apart from one hideous overdub (I think after the line, 'with a hatred that could hit the skies). I don't know why this was allowed, I'm certain somebody must have noticed it before the disc went to press.

    By the way, I know I'll get stick for this, but all the anonymous posters, why not use a moniker? It gets difficult to know if it's one person or ten. There's a function where you can select a profile...

  41. Rambling Gambling Gordon

    In ‘Idiot Wind’ the singer at one point looks forward with relish to the inglorious death of the woman, whom he pictures in a ditch with flies buzzing around her eyes, a line which to my knowledge no-one has ever objected to on the grounds of its being ‘nasty’ or ‘unpleasant’ – terms which are now being applied to ‘flat-chested junkie whore’ in Scarlet Town. No-one need point out to me what an infinitely superior song Idiot Wind is, but the woman-in-the-ditch line is on the face of it not only infinitely ‘nastier’, not only as poetically undistinguished, but is ‘spat out’ in a way that the ‘flat-chested junkie whore’ line simply isn’t. Listen to Dylan singing it. It’s indisputably wrong to say he spits it out.

    In any work of the imagination you should be permitted – I’m tempted to say you should be encouraged – to visit the darkest and murkiest of dungeons, places in real life you would take pains to avoid. If the narrator in Scarlet Town says something ‘nasty’ and ‘unpleasant’, it may be because he’s been tainted more than he thinks by the fallen society he describes, in which case the language – ‘inhumane’, lacking in ‘acute observation’ as it may well be – could be said to be perfectly apposite. More charitably (perhaps), he could be a weary, unreconstructed cuss who utters the line in a mood of fatigued, grumpy affection. After all, he does ask the bartender to ‘set...up’ drinks for the woman and to play her a song. That’s the context in which the lines are delivered, a context which reminds me of Robert Burns’ exuberant, live-life-for-the-moment poem The Jolly Beggars, where one of the merry group of drinkers in a tavern gives his ‘tozie drab’ of a ‘doxy’ a ‘skelpan kiss’ while she holds up her ‘greedy gab /Just like an aumous dish’. In neither work are we speaking about the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – this is messy stuff, but the stuff of, er, life. As long as the narrator and his woman in Scarlet Town keep drinking and smiling, ‘heaven descends’, but outside ‘the end is near’ and the narrator is helpless to do anything about it. He has wept in vain for the death of Sweet William – ‘so brave, so gentle’ – and can find no healing in Christ’s garment because the hem is torn. Not much room for Little Boy Blue either. Nothing else for him to do but buy drinks, put on the music, and – well – call for his ‘flat-chested junkie whore’. That’s the sort of narrator he is. In Idiot Wind the singer relished the prospect of his woman dead in a ditch covered in flies. That’s the sort of narrator he was.

    I submitted my comment because it seemed to me that the line was being objected to by Elmer Gantry and (to a lesser extent) by you principally for its political unsoundness. In a song, as in any work of art, the artist can by politically unsound if he or she wants to. Objecting to the line for its clumsiness is quite different, but I’ve tried to argue that there is a case, given the context, for seeing the line as appropriate.

    I doubt if you’ll shift your view, Michael, but (as I trust you’ll agree) it’s good to debate.

    Finally, my original point – powdered handkerchief et al – was made, I hoped, humorously. Alas, not much success there, given the tone of your reply.

  42. It appears from the set lists on his new tour, that Bob Dylan is not keen on the album either. Jack

  43. I have now played this album about a dozen times and I can honestly say I enjoy it more with each play. Normally, by this stage I am picking out the tracks I like best but there is nothing here I dislike. His singing is great for the songs on the album and in the context of what we can now expect. Long and Wasted Years is a truly heartfelt and outstanding performance. Michael, if you don't get it in the next few plays perhaps it would be best to put it away for a while. I remember being disappointed by Planet Waves and giving it very little play. Years later, I listened again without any expectations and suddenly found it was a lot better than I had originally imagined (although not as good as Tempest!)

  44. It was a joy to read Tolstoy's words without knowing they were his, expecting him to move from his discussion of Shakespeare to the work at hand - Tempest - at any moment. I have no doubt that he would give a similarly damning condemnation of Tempest if he were alive. But then, Dickens might love it.

    As for me, I find myself concurring with everything everyone above has said about it.

    Except Tolstoy.

  45. Elmer Gantry15 October, 2012


    My objection to the 'flat-chested junky whore line' was not primarily a PC one (although I do think it is an offensive line in the context of that song). Like you, Michael, I also feel that the line is clumsy artistically and adds nothing the song itself.

    I do not believe a work of art must necessarily be PC. For example, I am a fan of Lou Reed's great song. 'Street Hassle', which includes some very un-PC language. This works because of the context of the song and Lou's journalistic detachment from the subject-matter...

    In a broader sense, I think that 'Scarlet Town' shows many of the problems which arise from Dylan's compositional methods at the moment. It reminds me of those plagiarised or semi-plagiarised essays I have marked in my academic work, where one beautifully written line (the borrowed one, of course) is followed by an excruciatingly lame one.

    Sometimes here Dylan seems to pick the easiest and lamest rhyme available. Perhaps the most appalling example of this is the excruciating:

    Shake it up baby, twist and shout
    You know what it's all about

    from "Long and Wasted' years.

    If we are talking about dystopian visions here, then I much prefer a song like 'Desolation Row' where the individual desperate characters are portrayed far more vividly and as people rather than types.

    Contrast the richness of this, for example:
    Now Ophelia, she’s ’neath the window
    For her I feel so afraid
    On her twenty-second birthday
    She already is an old maid
    To her, death is quite romantic
    She wears an iron vest
    Her profession’s her religion
    Her sin is her lifelessness
    And though her eyes are fixed upon
    Noah’s great rainbow
    She spends her time peeking
    Into Desolation Row

    Rambling Gambling Gordon
    I think the choice of song played by Joe (the barman who has made a quick move from Frank Sinatra's 'One for the Road' - another break-up song) is 'Walking the Floor'. The implication of this is that Dylan is walking the floor over 'the flat-chested junky whore' - hardly an indication of munch empathy with her plight..

    Would add also, that if Dylan fans have high standards, this is only because these are the standards Bob has set for himself in his best work...

  46. I think Bob was correct when he said that his albums shouldn't be compared to other work of his. It kind of narrows the focus and from his perspective, doesn't give him much room to manoeuvre. While I see merit in Elmer quoting Desolation Row as an example of superior writing, it doesn't mean that there isn't great writing in Scarlet Town.

    How many of us would yawn if every Dylan song of this type aped Desolation Row? As a writer, his task is immense: to avoid slavishly plundering his own work. He's busy enough plundering older work than his! I think Scarlet Town works fine, except for the last verse, which I think is superfluous. But as for junkie-whore line, I don't read this as a suggestion that anyone should 'walk over' the junkie-whore, either.

    As for simple and obvious rhymes, it works well, for the main part. It isn't something I'd hang him for. He has a history of obvious rhymes and using cliches and spattering them about with a suppressed grin. I like Long and Wasted Years conversational aspect, so alongside the lines Elmer quoted, we have some wonderful verses, one ending toughly with an 'iron heart.'

    Obvious rhymes work very well on the title track too.

    Tin Angel is the song I keep coming back too, and it's brilliantly sequenced just ahead of Tempest, creating almost a mini-album in themselves. Tin Angel has some wonderful strong lines, and towards the end it gets ambiguous. The verses where the guy gets shot are just marvellous...

  47. Elmer Gantry15 October, 2012


    Would point out that i have said that Scarlet Town is so far my favourite song on the record. I also think that the lyric (apart from THAT line)is one of the best Dylan has 'written' in quite a while.

    I also like the atmosphere which the band create on the song...

    There is, of course, a world of difference between an 'obvious' rhyme and a meaninglessly banal one...

    I don't expect every Dylan lyric to be based on the same model - he has written so well in so many different styles (compare, say, 'Blonde on Blonde' with 'John Wesley Harding') that would be ridiculous - but I do expect a higher standard than is to be found on most of this album.

  48. Rambling Gambling Gordon

    ‘Walking The Floor’ in Scarlet Town would appear to refer to Ernest Tubb’s ‘Walking the Floor Over You’, a country love song about not being able to sleep for worrying about your woman. If that’s the case I’m not sure why Elmer Gantry thinks it indicates lack of empathy. (Elmer – are you suggesting in all seriousness that the narrator is alluding to physically walking over the woman?)

    The point he makes about Dylan’s method of composing these days, and about lame lines, is interesting. Dylan has always written unevenly – it’s the nature of the way he pulls songs together – but in the past his intuitive genius was far more likely to be able to carry those moments off. I don’t remember ever cringing at lines they way I cringe at something like ‘Down in the quarry with the Quarrymen’ or at the trite allusions to Lennon lines in the same song.

    My defence of Scarlet Town doesn’t mean I think it’s wonderful, although I do think it one of the album’s stronger songs, along with Tin Angel (which he so satisfactorily rounds off with that lovely lengthening of the word ‘day’ in “All night and all day’), the light but toe-tappingly enjoyable Duquesne Whistle and the swirling, wonderfully realised title track. Roll On John is an oddity. It has appealing qualities; the plaintive melody; the tender singing; the way the arresting opening – ‘Doctor, doctor’ – is mirrored at the end by ‘Tyger, tyger’; the appropriateness of quoting from a poem that addresses the problem of evil in the world; and the unexpected imagery (ships, trade winds, slaves, tied hands, roaming buffaloes) but whether it all quite adds up I’m not so sure. What certainly baffles and saddens me is (as mentioned above) the lameness and triteness of so many lines in a song that purports to be to the memory of someone Dylan clearly had much admiration and affection for, and which for that reason, if no other, would surely demand far greater artistic tact and care. The song seems to me fatally damaged by its weak lines, whereas in the title track the ‘McGonagallesque’ ones are (I entirely agree) ‘faux-naive’, are swept up in the headlong rush of the verses, and never detract from the song’s overall impact.

  49. The lyrics to Scarlet Town in full. "Unskilled and suffocating heaviness?" Hardly.

    In Scarlet Town, where I was born
    There’s ivy leaf and silver thorn
    The streets have names that you can’t pronounce
    Gold is down to a quarter of an ounce
    The music starts and the people sway
    Everybody says, “Are you going my way? ”
    Uncle Tom still workin’ for Uncle Bill
    Scarlet Town is under the hill.

    Scarlet Town in the month of May
    Sweet William Holme on his deathbed lay
    Mistress Mary by the side of the bed
    Kissin’ his face and heapin’ prayers on his head
    So brave, so true, so gentle is he
    I’ll weep for him as he would weep for me
    Little Boy Blue come your blow horn
    In Scarlet Town, where I was born

    Scarlet Town, in the hot noon hours,
    There’s palm-leaf shadows and scattered flowers
    Beggars crouching at the gate
    Help comes, but it comes too late
    By marble slabs and in fields of stone
    You make your humble wishes known
    I touched the garment, but the hem was torn
    In Scarlet Town, where I was born

    In Scarlet Town, the end is near
    The Seven Wonders of the World are here
    The evil and the good livin’ side by side
    All human forms seem glorified
    Put your heart on a platter and see who will bite
    See who will hold you and kiss you good night
    There’s walnut groves and maplewood
    In Scarlet Town cryin’ won’t do no good

    In Scarlet Town, you fight your father’s foes
    Up on the hill, a chilly wind blows
    You fight ‘em on high and you fight ‘em down in
    You fight ‘em with whiskey, morphine and gin
    You’ve got legs that can drive men mad
    A lot of things we didn’t do that I wish we had
    In Scarlet Town, the sky is clear
    You’ll wish to God that you stayed right here

    Set ‘em up Joe, play “Walkin’ the Floor”
    Play it for my flat-chested junkie whore
    I’m staying up late, I’m making amends
    While we smile, all heaven descends
    If love is a sin, then beauty is a crime
    All things are beautiful in their time
    The black and the white, the yellow and the brown
    It’s all right there in front of you in Scarlet Town

  50. Elmer Gantry18 October, 2012


    Am not sure if anyone has pointed out that 'Tin Angel' - at least in its first verse - is partially based on the old song, 'The Raggle-Taggle Gypsies'. The best version I know of that song is by Planxty on their brilliant first album:

    It was late that night that the lord came in,
    Inquiring for his lady-o.
    The servant girls they replied to him all,
    She's away with the Raggle-Taggle Gypsy-o

    Oh saddle for me, me milk white steed.
    Me big horse is not speedy-o.
    I will ride and I'll seek me bride,
    "She's away with the Raggle-Taggle Gypsy-o.

    Oh then he rode east and he rode west.
    He rode north and south also,
    But when he rode to the wide-open field
    It was there that he spied his lady-o.

    Martin Carthy also recorded a version of this song as the 'Seven Yellow Gypsies' - his version can be found on the Topic album, 'A Collection'.

    The American version of the song is 'Blackjack Davy', which has been recorded both by Woody Guthrie and Dylan himself.

    Unfortunately, I can't say I like the bloody & portentous Cormac McCarthy-esque story which Dylan has added to the bare bones of the original song (which I much prefer).

    I have always found McCarthy an insufferably tedious writer, and a vastly over-rated one...

    His influence on Dylan on both 'Tin Angel' and 'Aint' Talking' has, in my view at least, been all to the bad.

  51. Elmer Gantry18 October, 2012

    Ramblin' Gamblin' Gordon

    My suggestion was that he is metaphorically (not physically) 'walking the floor' over the 'junky whore' in the song.

    The phrase is obviously an insulting one (see its use in this internet web site - (http://www.youtube.com/all_comments?v=WaCY9ebVeyw&page=1) - and it is odd that so many of the narrators in Dylan's songs in recent times use similarly misogynistic phrases...

    It also seems strangely out of place in the song - with its frequently archaic turn of phrase...

    It might be Dylan aiming for some kind of 'gangster rapper' effect, but, for me at least, it just doesn't work...

  52. Elmer Gantry21 October, 2012


    Ironically enough, 'Tin Angel' is also the name of a song bu Joni Mitchell - it is on Clouds and was also covered by Tom Rush.

    This may be a commentary y bob on the whole plagiarism row between him & Joni (second out, I hear you say)...

    Tin Angel was also, it seems, the name of a folk club in San Francisco in the 1950s...

    The song also has echoes of another far superior folk ballad - that is, 'Little Musgrave' in its English version (a great version of which was recorded by Planxty) and 'Mattie Groves'(recorded by Paul Clayton, incidentally) in its American...

  53. Elmer Gantry22 October, 2012


    Just found the following quote from Greil Marcus, which, rather surprisingly, summarises my own feelings about Dylan's current band very well:

    'The band that Bob Dylan works with now is not a strong band. They’re not a challenging band, except for Charlie Sexton, the lead guitar player. There’s no one with an individual sensibility, with his own grasp of a song and where to take it, to challenge Dylan as a singer. The music for the most part is backup. It’s often a repetitive figure played over and over again, so that all your focus is on the singing, on the voice. But Bob Dylan has always sung best, he’s always been most alive, combative and finding surprises in a song, when a band is challenging him, when the musicians are going somewhere he couldn’t have anticipated. I don’t think that’s happening here.'

    What I think stands out out on Tempest is how mechanical the Band sounds throughout - except, perhaps, for 'Duquesne Whistle' and the guitar solo on 'scarlet Town'. On the rest of the album what is lacking is the looseness and the sense of spontaneity that you find in Dylan's best work. There seems to be no space for the musicians to express themselves in.

    This leads, I think, to the sense of tedium and monotony that sets in on the longer songs on the album...

    1. I agree completely. And so do many others: I don't think Marcus was saying something new here. Everyone says what a tight band he has - I'd rather he had a loose band! Then its individuals might be able to interveave and interact and Dylan might come alive among them. Something might be happening here, as with the best bands he's had in the past: not least among them the Hawks 66 of course, but also around 2003 when Freddy Koella was in the band.

  54. Elmer Gantry23 October, 2012


    My feeling is that the 'Irish waltz' (on which the incredibly tedious tune of 'Tempest' is based) has very little to do with any real 'folk' tradition in Ireland.

    My guess is that it was introduced into the country in the late 19th century, by organisations like the Gaelic League who were looking for 'respectable' dances (unlike the hornpipe, jig or reel, for example) which would be suitable for their middle class members.

    Its a sort of ersatz form of Irish music - with the same connection to it as the German Oompah band has to genuine German folk music...

    Because of this, I have come to view 'Tempest' as being a parody - a joke by Dylan on both the wretchedness of this version of 'Shamrockery' and on the appallingly mediocre Cameron movie, with its kitsch Oirishy music...

  55. Elmer Gantry24 October, 2012


    Re-reading Dylan's recent interview with Rolling Stone, I was struck by this comment:

    'And as far as Henry Timrod is concerned, have you even heard of him? Who's been reading him lately? And who's pushed him to the forefront?'

    The obvious answer to that question is that this is hardly Dylan's work (as he did not acknowledge his borrowings from Timrod, until after these became public knowledge). If anybody deserves credit for pushing his name forward, then, it must be Scott Warmuth and those others who have traced Dylan's 'borrowings'..

    1. Agreed. He'd say, of course, that he was the pied piper in this process, and others' tracings of his borrowings were the inevitable followings. For me, though, the whole interview was so graceless and bad-tempered that it discourages being taken seriously.

    2. Oh for Chrissakes ... you think people wouldn't have worked it out without Warmuth? Gimme a break.

      Dylan is exactly right in what he says about "pushing Timrod to the forefront."

  56. I agree too! An obvious lack of self-reflection and depth-so beautifully present in his best work, such as Dear Landlord. Jack


  57. I too would prefer if the band on Tempest were let off the leash a little more (although it is still occasionally sumptuous) but the focus is clearly meant to be on the vocal which for my money is so warm and expressive. Magnificent if I'm honest and where I usually look forward to live renditions of new albums, in this case the vocal delivery is so wonderful that I find it difficult to see how he can improve on much of it. Even the raspier deliveries are full of such commitment that I'm (almost) content not to hear them done live. That said, Bob is clearly going through a perverse phase as he's only played one song live thus far! His best work this century and it gets the silent treatment. Typical!

  58. I think Greil Marcus's comments in regards to the band on Tempest are slightly unfair. The band certainly sounds more alive than they do on, for instance, Modern Times, where the band really did plod along tiredly, particularly on the more uptempo blues numbers. I think the playing on Soon After Midnight, for instance, is truly exquisite. That said, there is a sense of dutiful monotony in evidence on longer songs like Narrow Way and Tin Angel, where it almost sounds like Dylan is singing over a loop track. I think the great Australian singer/songwriter Robert Forster sums up the deficiencies of Dylan's band really well in his piece on Modern Times:

    "Dylan is arrangement-shy and always has been. A typical Dylan-produced song, in the studio or on stage, consists of all the musicians starting together, playing together and finishing when Dylan gives them the nod. No one sits out. No one comes in just for a chorus. It's all pretty flat, and that's fine when the songs are top-notch and we listen to Bob sing. But as soon as they slip - as they surprisingly do on much of this album - you realise that someone else is needed to push Dylan on his material and the way it might sound."

    A full account of Forster's article: http://www.themonthly.com.au/music-robert-forster-modern-times-and-times-bob-dylan-s-039modern-times039-294


  59. Lest there be a perception otherwise, it should be pointed out that Mr. Marcus found lots to like in Tempest based on the entirety of the radio piece the above quote is taken from.

    1. Elmer Gantry29 October, 2012


      Part of the point I was making in my earlier post was that I found it unusual that, on the issue of Dylan's present band, I was in almost total agreement with Greil Marcus. For my own part, I find Marcus' writings on Dylan full of the pretentious windbaggery in which he specialises...

      In the Radio piece, he praises 'Tin angel' - which I find a monotonous song, with lyrics which are markedly inferior to those of the Child ballads on which the song is based...

      i don't really understand how anybody can see clunky lines like this as good...especially by Dylan's standards:

      'He pondered the future of his fate
      To wait another day would be far too late'

      You are making my heart feel sick
      Put your clothes back on, double-quick” (The Boss)


      “Oh, my dear, you must be blind
      He’s a gutless ape with a worthless mind”

      These are surely contenders for the next edition of 'the Stuffed Owl'

  60. Elmer Gantry28 October, 2012


    I see - the way to bring your influences 'to the forefront' is NOT to acknowledge them in any way...

    What a brilliant idea _ I will tell my students in the future that they should follow this principle when purchasing their essays off the net...

    Obviously Joe Ely made a major error in this respect when he acknowledged the influence of Cormac McCarthy on a number of the songs on his fine album, Letter to Laredo.

    Similarly Schubert should have claimed Heine's and Goethe's poems as his own - as people would have traced these borrowings anyway...

    Funnily enough, I am going to see Robert Forster play here in Sydney in November...

    While I am at it, I will also recommend his book 'The Ten rules of Rock & Roll' as one of those few collections of (present company excluded) intelligent rock criticism...

  61. Elmer Gantry29 October, 2012


    I also feel as if part of the problem with 'Tempest' is the way in which Dylan works in strict forms (like the ballad form of both 'Tin Angel' and "Tempest') which require a kind of regular rhyme and rhythm. It seems to me that most of Dylan's best work as a lyric writer comes in looser forms where he uses internal rhymes, stretching out lines, etc. etc...

    It takes a very particular kind of skill and disciple to work in those kind of forms and avoid becoming montonous...

    To my mind, at least at present, Dylan does not have that kind of concentrated discipline anymore. I also think his borrowings add to this problem, because he is continually faced with the difficulty of finding rhyme's for lines he has not written - and this sets up many of those times where he lapses into bathos or the kind of McGonnigalesque style you mention...

  62. Hey Elmer,

    I've really enjoyed your input here, you're giving me plenty to think about - even while I still enjoy this album. Maybe we're listening to it differently, but that's normal enough. For me, the rigidity and monotone of Tin Angel works, if only because it makes us lean in to hear the tough vocal and compelling narrative. I know, maybe it isn't compelling to everyone, but I think this is a Dylan narrative that repays many visits.

    The way you quote lines from this song above, I mean, we could that with most songs. Hurricane would encounter a similar problem, with obvious rhymes, clumsy formulations, like this:

    “You think you’d like to play ball with the law?”
    “Think it might-a been that fighter that you saw runnin’ that night?”
    “Don’t forget that you are white”

    Now, Hurricane benefits from the internal rhymes which are a victim, as you say, of the structure of Tim Angel. I happen to think the performance and plainness of the song give the lines you quoted an intensity and effect. Likewise, in Hurricane. The clutter and contrivances in the lyric get carried along by the performance. Taking the lines out of the song and reading them alone can have the most debilitating effect on song lyrics.

    In the recent discussion about whether or not Bob should get the Nobel Prize for Literature, I came down firmly on the side of the nay-sayers, and not only because his words are meant to be sung, and songs are not literature. But also because his words were never as sharp or clean or profound as the greatest poetry. He writes song lyrics, and as such, they go with the voice. But he's always been over-rated as a poet, possibly through media hype and also the desire to validate rock music somehow.

    Funny thing is, it doesn't need it. Its strengths lie elsewhere. But also, Dylan is a major songwriter. He's no great melodist - by his own admission - but neither is he so original or strong lyrically as great poets are. But put the two together? We then have something that can occasionally transcend both the words and music. It doesn't always work, but I give him huge credit on Tempest: it's an album that shows him deeply engaged with his muse, going for larger songs, stripping the music and giving us swathes of new lyrics.

    And as for his methods, they're still the same - but this time they work!

  63. Elmer Gantry31 October, 2012


    Thanks for your comments...am guessing that you are a fellow Irishman, so am happy to agree to disagree...

    My feeling is that while songs like 'Little Musgrave' and 'The Reaggle-Taggle gypsies' have survived for centuries. 'Tin Angel' will ultimately be seen as a very minor work by comparison...

    Would concede that the monotonous arrangement & lyric in 'Tin Angel' do successfully create a kind of claustrophobic atmosphere...if one likes that kind of thing.

    Strangely enough, with Dylan albums I usually find that my first impressions usually stick...

    I thought 'Street legal' was a close to great album when it came out & still do, despite the critical pasting it received in the press from some quarters at that time.

    Had a similar experience with 'shot of Love', which I thought was (in parts) a very good album, although it received a particularly vicious review from nick Kent at the time it came out.

    In my view, 'Time Out of Mind' was Dylan's last masterpiece, with 'L & T' being a good album, but not up to its standards.

    Since, then, however, the law of diminishing returns has set in...

  64. Hi Elmer,

    The law of diminishing returns suggests you think that Tempest is lesser than TTL which is lesser than MT. I think Tempest is significantly better than his last two albums.

    Yeah, I'm Irish and glad to disagree - but 2 things I agree with you on: Street Legal and Shot of Love.

    Oh, and I wonder what our good blogger Michael is making of Tempest now. I just introduced a good friend to it and she loves it. In the parlance of the neo-pagan she declared it has 'great energy.'

    'Yeah', I told her, 'sounds like he been at the old Viagra again - plenty of energy!'

  65. Elmer Gantry31 October, 2012


    Would add that I have reservations about the tag 'uneven' being applied to Dylan, especially when it used as a defence for inferior work.

    There is no doubt that over his career (particularly from the 80s onwards), Dylan has been responsible for some very dodgy lyrics...

    But if one thinks of Dylan's best work (or to put it in other ways, those times when he is on fire with a song) - running all the way from 'Chimes of Freedom' through 'Like a Rolling Stone' to all of Blood on the Tracks, and on through songs like 'Changing of the Guards', 'Where are you Tonight', 'Blind Willie McTell', 'Highlands', 'Not Dark Yet' etc. etc., what is striking is the high standard of Dylan's writing throughout...

    To my mind, Dylan's dodgiest lyrics have come from times when he was struggling with a general creative drought - and I think 'Tempest' fits within this rule.

  66. Elmer,

    nice to find another Robert Forster enthusiast on here. I missed his recent show here in Melbourne unfortunately. And, yes, his "Ten Rules of Rock'n'Roll" is a great read. I've got to disagree with your assessment of Time Out of Mind as the last Dylan masterpiece though. I think Love and Theft is the true latter-day masterpiece, a richer, deeper, ultimately more rewarding album than Time.

  67. Elmer Gantry06 November, 2012

    Michael (Gray, that is...)

    Just struck me that 'Tin angel' may have also have been influenced by another far superior song, Porter Wagoner's classic 'The Cold Hard Facts of Life', which I think Bob played on his radio show...

    Wagoner had a way with a 'murder' ballad, which links him, I think, to the 'old weird'(to quote Greil Marcus) American tradition

  68. Elmer Gantry14 November, 2012


    For some reasons, these lines from T.S. Elliott's 'Little Gidding' - originally, it appears, designed to refer to W.B. Yeats - seem to me to apply well to 'Tempest' (the entire album, that is). They refer to the plight of the aging artist:

    First, the cold friction of expiring sense
    Without enchantment, offering no promise
    But bitter tastelessness of shadow fruit
    As body and soul begin to fall asunder.
    Second, the conscious impotence of rage
    At human folly, and the laceration
    Of laughter at what ceases to amuse.
    And last, the rending pain of re-enactment
    Of all that you have done, and been; the shame
    Of motives late revealed, and the awareness
    Of things ill done and done to others' harm
    Which once you took for exercise of virtue.
    Then fools' approval stings, and honour stains.
    From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit
    Proceeds, unless restored by that refining fire
    Where you must move in measure, like a dancer

  69. Thanks, Elmer, but please! Eliot not Elliott!!

  70. Elmer Gantry15 November, 2012


    I know...

    will blame my keyboard for that mistake...

    Reminds me of Flannn O'Brien's claim that the extra apostrophe that some people added to Finnegans Wake measurably shortened the life of Joyce.

  71. Elmer Gantry15 November, 2012


    As recompense for my mistake, here is Ted Hughes reading 'Little Gidding':


    Notice I gave Flann O';Brien an extra 'N' above, as well - this damnn keyboard...

  72. Here's a link to the alternate take of "Meet Me In The Morning:"


    1. Michael, thank you for this: I'm obliged. I'd also draw your attention to what strikes me as the highlight of the recent US tour - this performance of 'Delia': http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SpFeM7pO1w0&feature=g-all-u

  73. Thank you for the link to Dylan's recent performance of 'Delia'(& the other good stuff there)-it shows he can still perform from his depth.
    It was good to meet you in Derby.
    I still don't like 'Tempest'.

  74. Elmer Gantry25 November, 2012


    Have noticed with 'Tempest' (which I haven't listened to in about 3 weeks now) that I am falling into the same pattern as I have with all of the Dylan albums since 'Modern Times'.

    That is, that I go through an intense period of listening to them immediately after they come up - partly for the crossword puzzle interest of finding out the sources for the songs...

    After that period is over, my interest quickly wanes and I listen to them very rarely, if at all.

    Indeed, it strikes me that future critics may very well be surprised at the inordinate amount of attention given to what are ultimately very minor works in the Dylan canon.

    And now for something completely different...

    Having mentioned Robert Forster recently, here is his (very moving, I think) tribute to his close friend and co-songwriter in the Go-Betweens, Grant McLennan. Listen out for the Dylanesque harmonica at the end:


    1. Yes to all that. I'd still rather have them than not. Dylan's minor works are better than most of the dross we're fed.


  75. Tempest ain't no minor work. It's the real deal and in my book superior to L&T and MT. Cracking album. His only 21at century album befitting of a top ten slot.

    PS Delia is simply gorgeous. Well done Bob and band. They are in perfect harmony here

  76. Elmer Gantry26 November, 2012


    Thanks for posting the version of 'Delia' which is first rate...

    Funnily enough, the Dylan albums I listen to most often at the moment are 'World Gone Wrong' and 'Good as I've Been to You'...

    Give me either of those over Tempest any day of the week...

    'Tempest' is not just a minor work - it is also a profoundly unappealing one. Indeed, it is an album I would be quite happy never to listen to again (the first time I have felt that way about a Dylan cd)

    Give me the unpretentious mediocrity of 'Modern Times' or TTL any time...

  77. Hi Elmer,

    Your penultimate paragraph sums up much of my thoughts and feelings about 'Tempest'.

    For me, there is a lack of heart or soul in the album-the presence of which in most of his minor works, have made them appealing to me.

    My opinion about his attitude/stance in 'Tempest' was reinforced through my reading of the RS interview.


  78. Reading between the lines, do I detect that Elmer Gantry isn't very keen on TEMPEST?


  79. Not much soul or heart in the RS interview but packs of both in Tempest thankfully.

  80. Elmer Gantry28 November, 2012


    Thought my subtle remarks would have left you wondering...

    Yes, I think its unfortunate that Dylan made the album - there are a few tracks on it that are passable ones, but as a whole, it is an album that leaves me cold...

    The arrangements I find monotonous, the lyrics by & large sloppy & second rate, and there is an ugly air of petulance and (to use Michael's word) 'gracelessness' which turns me off it..

    Of course, I still think Dylan is, by far, the greatest songwriter of the last 50 years or so, but, in most important respects, its an album which does nothing for me...

    I have no sense listening to it that this is an artist who is engaged with his work or who really cares about how it is presented...

    Maybe a new band and a good producer?...

    1. Hi Michael
      have you ever had a hundred comments on a post?
      Listening to "Soon after midnight" today it occurred to me that maybe
      Dylan included the following

      "Charlotte the Harlot,
      Dresses in scarlet,
      Mary dresses in mink,
      It's soon after midnight,
      And I've got a date with a fairy queen"

      to make sure that what must be the most commercial track
      on the album doesn't finish up on Adele's next album

    2. dresses in green I think you'll find

    3. Hi Joe
      Well there may be over 100 comments but most of them are from about 4 people - indeed Elmer Gantry seems to have written more than everyone else put together...

  81. Good to see Tempest featuring in most of the albums of the year lists doing the rounds at the mo. well deserved.

  82. If it was green, I probably wouldn't object

  83. Elmer Gantry02 December, 2012


    My favourite review of Tempest at the moment is one on another Dylan site, whjch reads simply

    'I used to care, but things have changed'

  84. Elmer Gantry02 December, 2012


    Was just reading the article on John Wesley Harding you posted on Twitter.

    In many ways, its my favourite Dylan album - a quiet masterpiece, which shows a great artist close to the peak of his powerrs. There is also an added humanity to it, which makes me prefer it to other undoubted masterpieces like Highway 61 & Blonde on Blonde...

    To me, those three albums along with 'Blood on the Tracks' and 'Time Out of Mind' are the ones by which Dylan will ultimately be judged...

    Just below them in quality, I think, are 'Bringing it all Back Home' (which contains some amazing songs - that extraordinary second side), 'Freewheeling' & "Street Legal'. Also have a soft spot for "Shot of love', 'Love & Theft', 'New Morning' & 'Planet Waves'.

    Of course, 'World Gone Wrong' & 'Good as I've been to You' are extraordinary albums, in their own right...

    Just before making a final (negative) judgement on "Tempest', I gave it the test of playing it just after listening to Highway 61 - its thinness & lack of real quality was immediately apparent

  85. And since Comments on this straddle more than one post - some come under 59 SECONDS OF TEMPEST etc - it's worth re-directing people there, if only to see the Comment newly in today (Dec 3) from an Anonymous about the need to look at how Dylan uses the Whittier etc. It's good.

  86. Elmer Gantry03 December, 2012


    Found the post a very interesting one, although I find it difficult to develop enough enthusiasm for the lyrics on 'Tempest' to give them this kind of detailed attention.

    It seems to me, however, that an element of what Dylan is aiming for in a number of the songs on "Tempest' is to deliberately juxtapose archaic forrms of expression (like the lines he uses from Whittier and from Child ballads)) with more contemporary 'street' speech. Of course, this has been a key element in Dylan's 'writing for a long time (and which, perhaps, found some of its finest expression in the very funny juxtapositions in some of the songs on 'L & T' )

    This approach, it could be argued, is one with a long history in American popular music, although in it, it has been generally been used for comic effect (as Dylan does with references to Shakespeare, for example, in 'L & T').

    The approach was pioneered, I think, by people like Lorenz Hart in songs like 'Thou Sweet, Thou Lovely,
    Thou swell! Thou witty!
    Thou sweet! Thou grand!
    Wouldst kiss me pretty?
    Wouldst hold my hand?
    Both thine eyes are cute too;
    What they do to me.
    Hear me holler I choose a Sweet lollapaloosa in thee.
    I'd feel so rich in a hut for two;
    Two rooms and a kitchen I'm sure would do;
    Give me just a plot of,
    Not a lot of land,
    And Thou swell! Thou Witty! Thou Grand!

    and by Cole Porter in 'Kiss Me Kate' - both artists who, I know, who would not be on your favourites list, Michael.

    This style works well when used in comic songs, but in more sombre narratives like 'Tin Angel', it tends to jar. Indeed, the 'gutless ape' line in "Tin Angel' sounds like some of Hart's lytics in Pal Joey...one of the first musicals to include gangsters as characters.

  87. Elmer Gantry04 December, 2012


    On a quick count, I have posted about 22-25 comments here, so about three-quarters of the 100 are not mine...

    There were a few occasions here when I responded to comments from others, but they seem to have dropped out by this point...

    My New Year's Resolution will be not to post anything else about 'Tempest' - esp after we get to 100 here...

  88. Elmer Gantry05 December, 2012


    Just a quick word on Dylan's darkening of his sources on Tempest, with particular reference to 'Tin Angel'.

    It is worth pointing out in this context that in both 'Blackjack Davy' and 'The Seven Yellow Gypsieses'(and its other variants like 'The Raggle-Taggle Gypsies') on which "Tin Angel' is partly based, no one dies. Indeed, these songs can ultimately be seen as life-affirming - the wife choosing the vitality of the gypsies or Blackjack Davy over the sterile conformism of her husband's privileged lifestlyle (reminds me, in some respects, of Christopher Hill's great book, Liberty against the Law - a title that would fit well into the ethos of Dylan's early work)...

    'Tin Angel', by contrast, is a relentlessly grim and grindingly morbid take on the same story...

    Similarly, 'Little Musgrave' (and 'Mattie Groves') both feature husbands who murder their wives and their wives' lovers but, by the end of the song, show remorse for having done so.

    For example, 'Little Musgrave' ends:

    "A grave! A grave!" Lord Barnard cried, "to put these lovers in!
    With my lady on the upper hand, for she came from better kin.
    For I've just killed the finest knight that ever rode a steed,
    And I've just killed the finest woman that ever did a woman's deed!"

    By contrast, Dylan's song, which to my ears at least, is a coarsened and cheapened revision of those two fine ballads ends in a very bleak and bloody way.


  89. Tempest is no masterpiece or even a classic (although there is an argument to label it a modern classic) but it belongs at the head of the next tier down- the same occupied by the likes of Street Legal, Slow Train Coming and L&T. Fine albums all that Tempest just has an edge over.

  90. The Sunday Times gave Tempest their runner up in its top 20 albums of 2012. Arguably his finest album this millennium they note.