Bob Dylan - Modern Times
How does a young reviewer, like myself, tackle an album by Bob Dylan? The man is a living legend, influential beyond the term "influential" and has started, stopped and developed whole music genres. How's that for a start?
This is Dylan's 44th album and first in five years since "Love & Theft" and the publication of the first part of his autobiography, "Chronicles". With the name of the album, the autobiography and Scorsese’s films you might have thought Dylan would be looking forward rather than back, a time to reappraise his past and position himself firmly in the 21st century. Those listeners looking for this should turn off now - this is a record drenched in the past, an almost historical record steeped in 12-bar blues and old Rock 'n Roll riffs that would suggest that this was recorded any time but the 21st century.
But Dylan has always done his own thing, he's never looked to please the crowd or look to go where everyone else thinks he should go. This, musically, maybe a logical step on from "Love & Theft", but lyrically he's opened himself up again, telling dark stories and dwelling on lost loves and relationships. This could be his best in years. He's found a spring in his step and it could be down to Alicia Keys. From the opening licks of "Thunder On The Mountain" you know you're in for a treat - it bounces along with a pace rarely heard from Dylan in years, it almost sounds as if he's enjoying himself again... and then there's the line "I was thinking about Alicia Keys... I'm wondering where in the world Alicia Keys could be...", maybe delivered with a hint of tongue-in-cheek and a touch of actual care... What could Bob Dylan be trying to say? Who cares! It puts a huge smile on my face when I hear it and lyrics like this are part of his charm, his mystique.
"Rollin' And Tumblin" slides itself into your conscious with it's country-blues and, even at six minutes, doesn't outstay it's welcome. Another great one liner is hidden in it's intro as well, "Some lazy slut has charmed away my brains", before it kicks into slide guitar heaven. "Workingman's Blues #2" is another real highlight. Sounding like a distant cousin to "Most Of The Time", it's a delicate ballad, Dylan positively crooning the words over a delicate arrangement of blues guitars and piano.
This is all before the truly great "Aint Talkin", the just short of nine minutes closer, it meanders like the very history of American music is being channelled through this epic song. Steeped in the sounds and feelings of the West with acoustic guitars, strings and Dylan's hushed vocals, whispering "I'm trying to love my neighbour and do good unto others, but mother things ain't going well". Then it ends, with its delicate brushed drumming, and silence covers you.
The only track on here that doesn't quite work for me is "Spirit On The Water". Dylan seems to have decided to sing through his nose and the back of his throat. Admittedly, his voice is a deep croak these days, but it seems to channel his entire life and experiences into one point, like the old guy in the corner of your favourite pub recounting tales of past glories in such a way that you can do nothing but listen. He doesn't need to alter his voice, his songs are best delivered in their native tone, not embelished in any way.
44 albums in then and another jewel in his crown. Dylan can captivate and conjure up emotions that no other artist can. Just when you think you can write him off, he comes back stronger and more focused than before. "Some day you'll be glad you had me around" echoes round my head from "Aint Talkin" and all I can think is that, Bob, I'm glad you're around now.