Review Summary: Dylan's best album in years, Tempest is not only a great return to form but an amazing triumph given the sheer amount of work the man's already produced.
It can be tough for musicians to accept getting older sometimes. With more wisdom, there also comes the lack of the youthful energy present in older works. Then the ideas can start drying up due to how much material was already released, and eventually it's time to call it quits.
Well, Bob Dylan seems to ignore this notion; the dude's in his 70's and yet he presses on. No matter how little energy or voice he has left, his Never-Ending Tour still continues and he still records albums, for better or for worse. Even if he can't always keep up with the times anymore or produce records as great as many of his 60's and 70's classics, his attempts can be commendable. This brings to his 35th album, the mammoth record Tempest.
And I say "mammoth" for a reason. The songs are quite long compared to a lot of his other recent releases, including the 14-minute title epic. This, however, is not really a problem because of how well these tunes flow. So many years later, Dylan's songwriting still manages to be top-notch, even taking a more epic, grand vibe this time around. Even in what initially appears to be a humble opener, "Duquesne Whistle," Bob Dylan manages to take the western atmosphere and adds his keen sense of dynamics to build the tune up in a subtle manner and give it a, for lack of better words, emotionally powerful feeling.
The rest of the album is quite consistent; even with some of the more "grand" tracks, a lot of the material plays it safe. However, considering Dylan's career, is that really a bad thing considering his previous experimentation? Most of the music ranges between rock, folk, and country, country especially being more prominent than usual. While Dylan's voice is not exactly great these days, it's fitting for the gruff style of many of the tunes, giving the rugged feel of the western grit that a lot of the album goes for. "Narrow Way" pulls this off very well, mixing earthy lyricism with twangy guitar lines and Dylan's raspy vocal melodies for an atmosphere befitting of the darker side of folk music.
Dylan is at his best lyrically on this album, providing thrilling narratives mixed in with some very brooding poetry, even more brooding than usual for him. Songs like "Scarlet Town" and "Long And Wasted Years" are quite dark and even sad at times, perhaps due to Dylan's age giving him time to reflect on the world he'll leave behind soon. "Long And Wasted Years" especially conveys that, containing a hopeful swinging blues melody with messages of looking back on love, loss, and how time has passed. His lyrical work in general seems very emotive and passionate, although that's to be expected from Bob Dylan considering what he's done in the past.
If there's any weak point on the album, it's in the lack of energy from previous albums. This is obviously expected due to Dylan's age and previous duds he's made musically, but it can really show here sometimes. Also, some of the songs drag a little bit, mainly the epics in the second half of the album. It's not that they're bad, but just a little tedious when repeating motifs multiple times, and compared to the short and mid-length songs, they get somewhat boring.
Even with that said, this is a triumph of an album considering how late it is in Dylan's career. The fact that his 35th offering is just as solid as a lot of his classic work is extremely impressive, and he should be applauded for making his first fantastic record since 1997's Time Out of Mind, or even to some, since 1975's Blood on the Tracks. Bob Dylan fan or not, buy this album... you won't regret it.