Today, 50 years after releasing his self-titled debut LP, Bob Dylan unveils Tempest, his 35th studio album. And with it, Dylan, 71, continues what may be the longest uninterrupted era of critical acclaim—including our 4-star review—of his incredible career.
Not that Dylan has ever seemed to care too much for critics' opinions, but since the praise, sales, and awards of 1997's Time Out of Mind, he has maintained a consistent formula of swampy, shuffling, roots rock settings upon which his increasingly ragged voice howls, whistles, winks, and moans.
Elements of Christian theology comingle with folklore, classic poetry, rural history, and oblique personal confession in arresting ways. Though it seems most contemporary Dylanophiles see this era as having begun 15 years ago, the seeds can be found in his often maligned late '80s sets Down in the Groove and Oh Mercy.
Since last month's brief interview with Rolling Stone about the new album, much has been made of the "darkness" of it all. Dylan remarked that he had originally intended for this project to be more specifically "religious" in nature, but the strictures he placed on his songwriting process caused the focus to shift to an assortment of stories and subjects that presented themselves more readily. Those changes notwithstanding, Tempest is as deeply spiritual and haunting as his best work has always been.
Rolling Stone calls it "the single darkest record in Dylan's catalog." The Los Angeles Times, regarding the title track (a 14-minute opus on the sinking of the Titanic), observes, "The reference to an 'inner spirit' implies an outer spirit and in this context suggests an inner transformation ...1