Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" would never be released in 2012. Bob Dylan's "Sad Eyed Lady of The Lowlands" would never be released in 2012. What is it about these artists that keep them going? They were once the great lyricists of North America, now they're on the back hand of the singer-songwriter releases. Bob Dylan has history. "Tempest" is his thirty-fifth album to date... That’s an incredible amount of albums for the man who has served several periods and has been seen as the messiah and the devil in the same decade. He did however lose ground during the 80s and 90s. "I've been down on the killing floor," sings Dylan on track two, "Soon After Midnight". It’s a delicate folk rock track with Dylan’s ever effective gritty vocal. Critics have always said Dylan doesn't have so much of a voice; it's more of a sound. This is Dylan's sound.
Pre-release single "Duquesne Whistle" opens the album up with a bang. Writing credit is given to both Dylan and ex Grateful Dead guitarist Robert Hunter. This track is where Dylan's work will be most assessed. Side one, track one. Albums cannot be summarized on the first track, but that first track lays the foundation, just like the journalism pyramid. Take out track four, eight... whatever, you still have track one to build from. Duquesne Whistle has an excellent instrumental that captures the essence of Dylan's aged career. His aged voice is eager to come first, the upright bass and percussion will always come second to lyrics and vocals when listening to Dylan.
"Soon After Midnight" is a soft and soulful melody that sounds very 50s-esque. The instrumental is laid back and rather quiet. The following acoustic guitar, percussion and upright bass emphasize the 50s slow dance style. It's a short track in comparison to the rest of the album. The following track "Narrow Way” happens to be louder and aggressive. Dylan has a tendency to come across repetitive on Tempest. Narrow Way is an example of a repetitive guitar riff that is needed for the track, but doesn't work for the track length. Dylan is arguably at Tempest's best here, "I think that when my back was turned, the whole world behind me burned."
Tempest is an album for the hardcore Dylan fans. The 21st century hasn't been the best for Dylan, but he's managed to release several albums and tour continuously regardless of his age. "Pay In Blood" has an interesting story line which develops over time, as does "Scarlet Town". It's just a shame neither of these tracks grab my attention. Both instrumentals have repetitive structures. Slow tempo folk needs to have meaning and minimal features. The mass amount of musicians ruin Dylan’s perfectly fine lyrics here.
Muddy Waters’ "Mannish Boy" makes an appearance in one of Tempest's weakest tracks, "Early Roman Kings". Dylan does deliver a typical Dylan vocal with typical thoughtful Dylan lyrics. The blues instrumental just sounds way out of proportion to the vocals and lyrics. It's a clear dispute of originality and Dylan offers nothing but a standard blues riff with some interesting accordion. "Tin Angel" doesn’t improve the situation. Dylan delivers a Tom Waits-esque vocal, splitting the instrumental from his vocals. The heavy bass is extremely repetitive, offering nothing to the listener but a bog standard old repeated riff.
These back album tracks are losing marks for Bob Dylan. The final two tracks happen to save Tempest, just as it's sinking... No pun intended. The title track "Tempest" is a 14 minute ballad about the Titanic. Dylan also sings about James Cameron's Hollywood blockbuster, "Leo took his sketchbook. He was often so inclined. He closed his eyes and painted. The scenery in his mind." The track may be 14 minutes long, but Dylan has a story to tell... You must listen, right? Well I won't blame you for skipping / turning over because this track doesn't half babble on. I could quote Dylan all day, but I'm not going to because this track isn't my cup of tea. His lyrics are actually quite standard and weak, when you listen to other songs about the Titanic such as Pete Seeger.
The final track pays homage to John Lennon. "Roll On John" won't be Dylan's last ever studio track because he has a few albums still in him. It's somewhat of a tribute to John Lennon that all Liverpudlians / The Beatles fans would be proud of. Dylan goes in to detail about the history of John Lennon and his unfortunate loss of life. Roll On John is another long and dreary track that surpasses the seven minute mark. I wouldn't have a problem if this was say, Kate Bush, but it's Bob Dylan. The instrumental, like with Narrow Way, is repetitive. Tempest doesn’t end on a high and it adds to a number of reasons why this Dylan album just shouldn't have been.
Personally speaking, I think Bob Dylan is a wonderful album and fully deserves all the credit he's been given in the past 40 so years. Many of his albums have been highly influential, some of which I label in my top albums of all time. He's a terrific songwriter, there’s no disputing that. His 21st century career is one which doesn’t need to be. Tempest doesn’t need to be but it is. That's life, accept that Dylan will probably be releasing music till on his death bed, and even then albums will be released posthumously by Columbia Records. 10 tracks of folk/folk rock shouldn't pass the hour mark. This album doesn’t fit at all with both modern music and Bob Dylan. It's flawed in many areas, instrumentals being the key let down for Dylan this time round. He'll keep at it and one of these days he'll release a solid 21st century album, but for now... Blonde On Blonde.