Bob Dylan – Modern Times

Bob DylanIs there any point in anyone reviewing a Bob Dylan album in a conventional sense. Considering he’s one artist that splits people 50/50 down the middle whether they love him or hate him, when Modern Times was released last year it was already ear-marked as “Album Of The Year” for no other reason than it was a Bob Dylan album. So is it any good? Should we even be thinking in terms of good and bad considering we’re talking about an artist who made so many defining albums over 40 years ago (the classics Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde On Blonde and Blood On The Tracks were all made circa 1965-66)? No doubt most of you will have already made your mind up already but read on anyway.

As someone who owns a handful of Dylan’s albums (those mentioned above plus the 1970’s New Morning), I was initially not sure what to expect. Was it a modern sounding album or had he stuck with the blues/folk style of old. Well, it’s something in between. The music is jazzy and laid-back and the arrangement’s are traditional. But the production is warm and gentle, there’s nothing overpowering about any of the songs which is a good thing. As for Dylan’s voice, well it’s undoubtedly weakened with age, but his delivery is fairly clear. As to what his lyrics mean, well people have been debating since his first recordings.

“When The Deal Goes Down” is a slow waltz but has a defiant edge (“you’ll never see me cry” is the line although the music suggests otherwise). “Workingman’s Blues #2” is a tell-it-like-it-is tale of breadline blues: “Low wages are a reality/if we want to compete abroad”. The rest of the songs on the album are defiantly minimalistic, the percusion is muted and any other instrument in soft and gentle, especially on a track like “Nettie Moore”. If there is a standout then it’s the dark and rambling “Ain’t Talkin'”, it’s a slow and one of the strongest narratives on the album. So after all that, what have we learned? Marge my friend, I haven’t learned a thing. If anything, Dylan’s legacy would mean he could churn out crap album after crap album and they would still garner great critical praise. To judge this one purely on merit, there’s nothing to really get your blood going but that’s the point really. It’s an reflective and poignant album made by a man in his 60’s and as such is rather touching.

Bob Dylan – When The Deal Goes Down (yes, that’s Scarlett Johansson):

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