Dylan in the 21st Century
Bob has occasionally mentioned that, though he is credited with revolutionizing the modern song format – especially in his brilliant poetic lyrics, he has always loved older songs, especially the blues and popular standards of the fifties and before. He is an avid collector of early recordings and has released two earlier albums of old ‘folk’ songs (World Gone Wrong and Good As I Been To You). And in the Twenty-first Century he has more and more returned to these early blues, both lyrically and in the sound his band has recorded.
In 2001 he released “Love and Theft”. Here was Bob in full early rockabilly style, the band rolling along and his lyrics cryptically almost whispered above the band – as if the words had just popped into his head. He seems to have lost his nasal intonation and his emphasizing certain words, preferring a ‘band-leader’ boogie-woogie style. A good album, though many hard-core fans might have been disappointed. Best songs ‘Mississippi’, ‘Po’ Boy’ and ‘Sugar baby’. But the album is almost a continuum with little to distinguish one song from another. For me too, I am still really familiarizing myself with these later albums – the songs don’t quite resonate with me as the old ones do. Maybe this is an inevitable consequence – the more we listen to albums (I must have heard the Beatles songs hundreds of times) the more they sink into our consciousness. That is why we love the old songs so much. But all in all a pleasant album, and self-written – even if he has used lines and melodies here and there from older blues songs. Five years later he released what may be considered a companion piece Modern Times. Again an old-fashioned sounding record, relying on old blues stylings and an almost big band swing style. I am not sure if I really like this ‘Dylan’, it is interesting and his voice is still hypnotic but somehow the words don’t stick in my brain anymore. Pleasant enough but not remarkable. But Dylan seems relaxed in this style, though live he still cranks out the old stuff, though often with completely new melodies. Best songs ‘Spirit on the Water’, ‘Workingmans Blues’ and ‘Nettie Moore’. The records were getting further apart and yet, they sold really well. As if the public had re-discovered Dylan. And of course being Dylan he was certain to disappoint them soon. The third, in what might be described a trilogy (though Dylan would surely disagree) is Together Through Life (2009). Again a fairly old-fashioned sounding record, but the tunes seemed better to me. The songs were co-written with Robert Hunter and sound better, more rounded – and the words are better too, best songs – ‘My Wife’s Hometown’ and ‘If You Ever Go To Houston’. A few of the songs have a sort of Cajun arrangement which was interesting. I kept faith with Bob through these years, hoping that things would improve, that he might return to his old style – but it seemed in vain; Bob was set in his ways and after almost 40 albums was at last doing exactly what he wanted to do. Even to the extent of later that same year releasing a mawkish and sentimental Christmas In The Heart. Obviously his personal favourites, hymns and all. Oh Well. And the award for turkey of his career rests here.
2012 saw Tempest. Another timeless sounding record; Bob’s gravelly voice weaving hypnotic spells over simple backing. Not bad songs but nothing really memorable; ‘Early Roman Kings’ is nearest to his old style though I have no idea what the song is about. ‘Tin Angel’ is pretty good too. Another long rambling song about the film Titanic and the real sinking of that ship – Tempest. And a song about John Lennon too. I liked this record more than the last few, something about it was appealing. Maybe he was getting his Mojo back. We waited – but in vain.
As has happened a few times before Bob returned to his roots and next gave us an album of standards; Shadows in The Night. And despite trying I just don’t like it. These are all songs recorded by Sinatra between 56 and 62. So what? Firstly Dylan does not have a great voice (except surprisingly on Nashville Skyline); he has a very expressive voice, he emphasizes key words in songs – his own songs of course. We love him for his great songwriting and his way of singing. But it just doesn’t work when he tries to sing like Sinatra. Nobody can sing quite like Sinatra anyway, least of all Bob. Okay, he has earned the right to sing exactly what he wants – we, his fans do not need to like it. The best thing about it is the record was only 35 minutes long.
Two years later he followed this with Fallen Angels. Another album of old standards – though at least these were much more well known – but the same dull voice and arrangements. And even worse two years late we got Triplicate – 3 cds worth of the same. (Ihave ordered it but it remains unlistened and I suspect unlistenable). So, that is that from his bobness. We wait….but not with much expectation. However the story does not end there….