Ever since the release of 1997's stunning Time Out Of Mind, much critical ado has been made about the modern-day creative resurgence of Bob Dylan. The recent five star notices his new album Tempest has received from the likes of Rolling Stone and Uncut isn't likely to quiet that talk any time soon either.
But in doing your Google due-diligence searching for Tempest online, you are more than likely to come across reviews proclaiming this album "Dylan's best since Blood On The Tracks, Blonde On Blonde or (fill in the blank here)."
It's not, and any such comparisons are beside the point anyway. At this late stage of the game, Bob Dylan isn't any likelier to record a sequel to Highway 61, than Bruce Springsteen is for Born To Run. His voice is probably no longer up to the task of duplicating that kind of a sound for one thing.
Still, there is no denying that Dylan's most recent, post-millennial work has been among the best of his entire career. Since the release of Time Out Of Mind, the closest thing to a clunker in the bunch was probably 2009's Together Through Life, and even that album has its share of near-classics like "Forgetful Heart." More often though, there has come amazing work that ranks right up there with his best, including at least one genuine masterpiece in 2006's Modern Times.
Tempest mostly falls into the latter category, and is an album which over time could well prove to be regarded as another latter-day masterwork.
All of the elements for a great Dylan record are certainly in place here. You've got your epic storytelling, in the form of "Tin Angel" and the opus title track. There's pointed political commentary (albeit couched in metaphoric allegory) on "Early Roman Kings." There's also plenty of Dylan's trademark biting lyrical venom to be found on tracks like "Pay In Blood" and "Narrow Way."
But as far as the songs themselves go, Dylan mines much the same territory he's been exploring on much of his most recent work here. Nothing really stands out as anything particularly revolutionary or "new" - at least not in terms of any truly original sounding melodies.
If anything, the songs on Tempest rely heavily on the more tried and true, and otherwise traditionally familiar. In much the same way that "Rollin' And Tumblin'" and "The Levee's Gonna" Break" gave a post-modern spin to a pair of traditional blues standards on Modern Times, Muddy Waters' "Mannish Boy" gets a similar, if slightly more up-tempo facelift here on "Early Roman Kings." The epic storytelling about the sinking of the Titanic heard on "Tempest," likewise takes its musical cues from something that sounds (most eerily, in this case) like a post-depression waltz.