Thirty-five albums in Bob Dylan is still doing what he loves, while sounding a good 20 years older than he is at all times. With Tempest he pushes away from his recent, more accessible albums. The most obvious sign of this is that half the songs here stretch well over the seven-minute-mark (the title track going to almost a quarter-of-an-hour), whereas on Modern Times and Together Through Life he only once went over seven minutes.
What never changes is Dylan’s penchant for wordplay and his visionary lyricism. The nature of these songs, however, lends more to the story-telling side of Bob Dylan, most notable in ‘Tempest’ where he details the sinking of the Titanic. Yet the length of the song just isn’t justified and will put most listeners off.
‘Long and Wasted Years’, by comparison, is one of the shorter tracks and is the hidden gem of the album. Dylan helter-skelters his words around a descending piano ballad run: “Last night I heard you talking in your sleep, saying things you shouldn’t say, oh baby, you just might have to go to jail someday”. Just when we thought Bob Dylan might be winding down he proves he’s going full blood.
‘Duquesne Whistle’ throbs and bobs in its bassline while ‘Pay in Blood’ broods half-soul and half-rock, proving there are many different sides to his swagger. Tempest is littered with good songs as well as those tougher to love (here found as ‘Tin Angel’ and ‘Tempest’), much like every other Bob Dylan album. What we haven’t had is a regeneration of sound or direction; perhaps a new backing band is in order.
This mixed bag will split opinions of Dylan more than usual. This is one man who wouldn’t win the Saturday night reality shows but has the originality and brilliance to potentially earn the title of the greatest songwriter ever. This is no classic but it isn’t too shabby for number 35.