Tempest is Bob Dylan's thirty-fifth studio album, good grief. That latter-day-Dylan sound, throaty vocals and a style that's more than a little bit blues, is back, and for the first half of the album I wondered whether there were any tracks that would make me want to play this album in preference to, say, Together Through Life.
Then, suddenly! four songs in a row I really liked, bang-bang-bang-bang.
The first stand-out was 'Scarlet Town', one of those Dylan numbers that's very evocative even though you're not quite sure what it's evoking. Where is 'Scarlet Town, where I was born'? The Wild West? Jerusalem? The end of the world? With a lyricist who can pen 'Play it for my flat-chested junkie whore' and 'If love is a sin, then beauty is a crime' within a few lines of each other, anything is possible.
My ears pricked up at the words 'Early Roman Kings'. Dylanologists have already been at work and I subsequently learned that these gentlemen were a Puerto Rican street gang rather than your actual Romans, but it's a great song anyway.
'Tin Angel' kicks off 'It was late last night when the boss came home', and I thought "Aha, this is 'Gypsy Davy' (trad.), as performed by Woody Guthrie", because I'm sad like that. Well, it is and it isn't. After that first line, the lyrics are pure Dylan. The story is roughly similar - noble lady runs off with another man, husband rides after her - but with added apocalyptic imagery and a sense of the struggle between good and evil. Also, everyone dies. Fact fans, Bob has referred to Gypsy Davy before, in 1965's 'Tombstone Blues':
Gypsy Davy with a blowtorch he burns out their camps
With his faithful slave Pedro behind him he tramps
With a fantastic collection of stamps
To win friends and influence his uncle
Thank you, Mr Dylan. Everything is so much clearer now.
Title track 'Tempest' is one of those twelve-minute epics filled with often-baffling references, like Time Out Of Mind's 'Highlands'. On the surface it's about the Titanic, but Cupid is there, and some guy named Leo who enjoys sketching, so this is probably one of those crazy songs stuffed with figures from myth and history, like 'Desolation Row' or 'Tombstone Blues'. He's been doing this sort of inspired, logical nonsense since the 1960s, and doing it consistently well.
So, those are my favourites so far. The album closes with 'Roll On, John', a tribute to John Lennon which I think will grow on me. Two points here: one, 'Tyger, tyger burning bright, I pray the Lord my soul to keep' is a wonderful line, and two, Paul Simon also ends an album with a song about John Lennon, 'The Late Great Johnny Ace' on 1983's Hearts and Bones.
Privateering to follow when I've had another, proper listen.