Bob Dylan's remarkable new album Modern Times is set against an apocalyptic backdrop of broken levees, broken dreams, and a "world that has gone black before my eyes," according to at least one of this album's brilliant ten new songs. But if Dylan's got doomsday on his mind, the impending apocalypse he foresees seems to be as personal as it is biblical.
Bob Dylan has employed religious imagery in his lyrics at various points throughout his illustrious career. But unless I am wildly misreading the lyrics here (and I honestly don't think I am), the Modern Times Dylan refers to on this album mean nothing less than the End Of Days itself.
This in itself should surprise no one. Dylan has always been a rather astute commentator on our times since at least his "spokesman of a generation" heyday in the sixties. And whether it's because of a Christian president fighting a "war on terror" against what are largely Islamic enemies (let's be honest here), or the biblical level disasters like Katrina we've seen in recent years, or any and all of the above, make no mistake. Apocalyptic thought has become a deeply ingrained part of the national, if not the global psyche. That someone like Bob Dylan would take note of this on his new record is again, hardly a surprise.
Still, this album contains some of the darkest, most overtly religious imagery Dylan has used since the Slow Train Coming days. But there is a distinct difference between then and now. While Dylan himself seems to be acutely aware of the impending doom of songs like the opening "Thunder On The Mountain," the man we find here is not really so much the zealous fire and brimstone preacher of the infamous "Born Again" years.
Well okay, there is the occasional biblical chastisement. Such as found in the line "Well I got up this mornin', see the rising sun return, Sooner or later you too shall burn" from Dylan's modern uptake of the blues standard "Rollin And Tumblin."