Bob Dylan’s music has led him to many different types of accomplishments and has left him with nothing left to prove, but he still has a lot to say. With his 35th studio album, Tempest, he says a number of these different things in a number of different ways. Like all of the other Dylan albums, Tempest is stuffed with lyric after clever lyric.
Dylan also produced this album by himself (for the most part), something he has been doing consistently since the early 90s. He has reached a point in his musical career where he understands the process so well and knows exactly what he wants that he can do it all, and at his own discretion. His fingerprints are left all over the music’s structure – the way the lyrics flow verse after verse, or the way the instrumentation never staggers too far from home.
The instrumentation on Tempest veers away from that of Dylan’s acoustic folk and more towards traditional blues and jazz. The opening track, “Duquesne Whistle,” begins the album with a free form jazz sound, while “Early Roman Kings” uses the chords from Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy.”
But Dylan’s wordplay still outshines any other aspect of the album. The excess amount of rhymes seem to pour out of him like punctured dam. Verse after verse, he rhymes consistently, while still managing to get his point across clearly. In “Tin Angel” Dylan wastes no time of the nine-minute track, rhyming up a sinister narrative of a double-murder suicide. He then manages to cram an astonishing 45 verses into the 14-minute title-track, “Tempest.” And with this excess of wordplay, little wit is lost. “It’s a long road, it’s a long and narrow way,” he croaks on the seven-minute “Narrow Way.” “If I can’t work up to you, you’ll surely have to work down to me someday.”
Even with these songs exceeding seven, eight and nine minutes, Dylan still displays a productive structural handle on each of them. The structure for “Pay In Blood,” for example, is very neat. The entire song follows the same structure throughout: sixteen measures of Dylan’s lyrics per verse, followed by four measures of instrumentation. This continues for all six of Dylan’s verses, which accurately reflects the productive hand Dylan has played in Tempest.
Dylan’s political voice is also present on Tempest. “Night after night, day after day / They strip your useless hopes away / The more I take, the more I give / The more I die, the more I live” he preaches on “Pay In Blood.” But “Scarlet Town” takes the cake for the entire album, hitting all positive aspects already discussed, incorporating them all in one song – clever wordplay, song structure, a variation of generic influences – all while incorporating the strongest political theme on the entire album. “The streets have names you can’t pronounce / Gold is down to a quarter of an ounce / The music starts and the people sway / Everybody says, ‘Are you going my way?’” he sings amidst a slow, somber tone until a Santana-like guitar solo emerges smoothly and quietly.
Tempest varies in a number of ways, from the John Lennon tribute of “Roll on John” to the delicate, poetic “Soon After Midnight,” the album displays Dylan’s 71 years of experiences appropriately, and Dylan does so in an experienced way.