Into Eye of Bob Dylan's 'Tempest'

35th Album Leaves Us Eagerly Awaiting His 36th

Sail On: Dylan is marking his 50th year in show business with a new album and another tour, this time with Mark Knopfler, another famous Jewish rock ‘n’ roller.
getty images
Sail On: Dylan is marking his 50th year in show business with a new album and another tour, this time with Mark Knopfler, another famous Jewish rock ‘n’ roller.

By Jennifer Gilmore

Published October 01, 2012, issue of October 05, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

When listening to a new Bob Dylan album, is it possible to hear it in and of itself? Or are we destined to hear only Dylan against Dylan? And if so, how can anything new hold up against those first thrilling chords of “The Times They Are a-Changin’”? Or Dylan gone electric — the ecstatic, in-your-face start to “Blonde on Blonde”? Or the exquisite longing of “Blood on the Tracks?” Or the later Dylan, which I’m going to mark at 1997’s nearly perfect “Time Out of Mind,” released not long after Dylan was hospitalized, and stated with unusual candor and clarity: “I thought I was going to meet Elvis.”

Who out there is coming to “Tempest,” his 35th album, which is being released during his 50th year in show business, as an introduction to Bob Dylan? I expect absolutely no one. And so we expect that Dylan will outdo himself. Sometimes he does, but not here. In “Tempest” we find Dylan, at 71, toying with his usual concerns: women (a perennial obsession), mortality, class, fame in its decline, notoriety, social justice and the endless journey, the wide and beautiful sound and landscape of America. The album has all these elements, along with that strange and wonderful dissonance of music, voice and lyrics, and yet it often feels like Dylan phoning in Dylan.

“Tempest,” which runs a long 68 minutes, begins with “Duquesne Whistle,” a train song signaling that we are headed on a journey; however, we spend less time on the tracks than deep in the terrain of the heart. “You’re the only thing alive that keeps me going; you’re like a time bomb in my heart,” Dylan sings. The heart grows even more bitter in “Soon After Midnight,” the album’s shortest and most captivating song, reminiscent of the cool crooned waltzes of “Nashville Skyline.” Now, though, that voice is ragged. “Two-timing Slim / Who’s ever heard of him? / I’ll drag his corpse through the mud,” Dylan sings in the stripped and lacerating voice that informs this album. I don’t see how anyone could believe he is joking.

It is impossible not to search for the Dylan beneath the Dylan mask; it is a game both Dylan and his listener pledge to play. And in “Long and Wasted Years,” a nearly spoken plea to a straying lover that references “Twist and Shout” but brings to mind less the Beatles or the Isley Brothers than the studio sound of his own underappreciated 1985 “Empire Burlesque,” we do locate Dylan: “I wear dark glasses to cover my eyes / … / Come back baby / If I hurt your feelings, I apologize,” he sings. We find Dylan most often in the songs of the heart.

Dylan need not be contrite, as he is still writing the most compelling lyrics out there, but we lose him in the second half of the album. “Scarlet Town” is a gloomy, nearly seven-minute ballad, a relentless series of mundane couplets. “Early Roman Kings,” a 12-bar blues number with playful percussion, cuts the gloom, but the tone changes with the trite “Tempest,” a nearly 14-minute fiddle waltz that relates the tale of the sinking Titanic: The story is rife with age-old issues of class, love, dashed dreams and tragedy, but here it falls flat.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Kosovo's centuries-old Jewish community is down to a few dozen. In a nation where the population is 90% Muslim, they are proud their past — and wonder why Israel won't recognize their state. http://jd.fo/h4wK0
  • Israelis are taking up the #IceBucketChallenge — with hummus.
  • In WWI, Jews fought for Britain. So why were they treated as outsiders?
  • According to a new poll, 75% of Israeli Jews oppose intermarriage.
  • Will Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener be the next Met Council CEO?
  • Angelina Jolie changed everything — but not just for the better:
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.