Bob Dylan
Together Through Life



April 26th, 2009 | 40 replies

Release Date: 2009 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Is this the start of another barren decade?

Credit where credit is due - Bob Dylan generates incredible hype and attention for a man approaching his 50th year in the music business, and it's quite right that he should be applauded for both maintaining his original audience and ensnaring an entire generation of younger listeners. Like the under-20 Iron Maiden fans, who can listen to Dance of Death and Brave New World without the knowledge of how unbearably naff The X Factor and Virtual XI were when they came out, a whole wave of whipper-snappers can hear albums like Time out of Mind and Modern Times and never know how bad the '80s and early '90s really were.

But with that comes the necessary acknowledgment - no matter how long his career will last, or how skyscrapingly high his best work is, Dylan isn't infallible. That much, at least, was clear from Modern Times, an album that sounded great at first but has lost much of its sheen. Dylan's priority on that album - and to a lesser extent, on each record since Time Out of Mind - was to try and create something timeless by drawing inspiration from music that only somebody as old as he is would remember. Nice concept, but in doing that, Modern Times actually found itself in the midst of a wave of nostalgia that was felt across almost every genre of music, and as such, it dated itself very specifically and quite badly. Together Through Life has the same problem, and in fact it's probably moved up a notch, as the impossibly old-fashioned, accordion-led "If You Ever Go to Houston" shows most clearly. People who buy the deluxe edition will even find a bonus disc with an episode of his radio show included; the artists on here include such cutting-edge names as Little Walter, Sister Rosetta Thorpe, Howlin' Wolf, and Hank Williams. Carole King and T Bone Burnett sound young in such company.

Yet, the problem lies deeper than that - and shockingly, it lies in the fact that Bob Dylan has managed to repeat his greatest mistake ever. Look closely at the album's credits - one track credits Willie Dixon as a co-writer, only one track is written entirely by Dylan, and the rest are collaborations with Robert Hunter. Yes, that's Robert Hunter of the Grateful Dead. Yes, that's the same Grateful Dead who teamed up with Bob Dylan in 1989 and released an album widely acknowledged as one of the worst ever. In fairness, this is not an entirely shocking piece of news - Hunter has co-written with Dylan before, and let's not forget that Modern Times swiped lyrics and entire verses from all sorts of places - and it's not as if this album is anywhere near as bad as Dylan & The Dead. Yet the collaborative nature takes its toll. This has the weakest Dylan lyrics on any record in recent memory, and you'd arguably have to go as far back as Empire Burlesque to find an album that bears his name, but not much of his most obvious talent.

Even if none of this bothers you, though, the fact remains that Together Through Life suffers from the worst songwriting on any Dylan album since 1997. There isn't a single lyric on here that even grabs your attention, let alone stays with you, and largely thanks to the shift of focus towards slightly faster, bluesier material, there isn't anything as dark and insidious as "Ain't Talking" or as humbly beautiful as "When The Deal Goes Down". There's not anything that quite captures the loose, fun bar-room vibe of "The Levee's Gonna Break" either, and that's the territory the album seems to aiming for. There probably aren't any tracks here you'd actually describe as bad, in fairness, but you'd struggle to find anything in here which you could describe as even being among Dylan's best recent work - it's all oddly muted, seemingly on autopilot for great swathes of its length. The electric stop-time blues of "Jolene", and "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'" revert back to popular music's oldest formula, and although the latter sports a pretty nice melody, you can guess every chord change before it happens. It's obviously an unfair comparison, but "Subterranean Homesick Blues" used exactly the same ideas and 45 years on, still doesn't feel like this. Similarly, the aforementioned "If You Ever Go To Houston" kicks off with one accordion swell and despite the things going on around it (listen out for the pedal steel guitar), it never breaks away from it. "Forgetful Heart" is about as interesting as it gets - it's the one moment where Dylan takes the blues into territory that makes sense in a post-9/11 world, offering something darker and more spooked.

It's a shame that the album fails to hit, and in some ways, it's also a shame that it's not terrible, either. Ultimately, I could have written this review without even hearing this record, and no matter what you think of Dylan, one thing he should never be is predictable. Yet that's exactly what this is - with one listen to Modern Times three months ago, and just a few minutes to consider the influences he used there and how he could or would possibly move forward, most people could have mapped this album out. The two things you can say in this album's defense is that it's not as reliant on cheeky bits of theft as Modern Times was, and that Dylan's voice sounds much stronger on this sort of material than it tended to on that record. In every other respect, however, it's a disappointment, although not an unexpected one. The question remains, then: how does Dylan pull it back from here" An '80s-style rut could be looming, and he might not have long enough left to revive it again. Let's hope his next album is stronger than this, and that he doesn't end his career by sliding into mediocrity. Fingers crossed.

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MusicReviewer44 (4)

Comments:Add a Comment 
April 26th 2009


I suppose every artist is entitled to a dry period I think he (Dylan) might better spend it in quiet reflection.
I never revisit Modern Times, nor Love and Theft for that matter.

April 26th 2009


'only one track is written entirely by Dylan, and the rest are collaborations with Robert Hunter'

That sucks... Very good review though, Nick.

April 26th 2009


review is spot on.

April 26th 2009


my getting into bob dylan has been extremely recent, so with the flood of albums i've been listening to im not really sure whether i dislike this or not. and i still need to listen to modern times

April 26th 2009


ridiculously good review, haven't heard this yet though. i love his recent stuff so i might like this more than you do, but i'm not sure. i'll probably get this since i've been on a dylan binge recently.

April 26th 2009


i dug modern times a lot, excited to hear this, I liked the first song a lot. I definitely find myself going back and forth on the issue of whether or not Dylan should just hang it up once and for all, i thought modern times proved that he still had it. fantastic review though, I look forward to listening to this.

April 26th 2009



April 26th 2009


Sounds disappointing.

April 26th 2009


fo srs

April 26th 2009


Man, at least Modern Times was passable. This sounds like sh*te

April 26th 2009


Album Rating: 2.5

Bananacat66 - 5 stars

Bananacat88 - 5 stars

Bananacat99 - 5 stars

Now, I'm no detective, but....

April 26th 2009


bananacat##, bananacat##, and bananacat## really like this album a lot

edit: beaten barely

This Message Edited On 04.26.09

April 26th 2009


Great review. I was actually really looking forward to this

Tits McGee
April 26th 2009


Bananacat66 - 5 stars
Bananacat88 - 5 stars
Bananacat99 - 5 stars

Now, I'm no detective, but....


I really was hoping this would actually be good, but I'm less optimistic about it now. I'm still going to listen to this though.

April 26th 2009


Album Rating: 4.0

Disagree. Love & Theft is classic, Modern Times is superb, and from what I've heard so far (3 tracks), this is superb.

April 26th 2009


Album Rating: 2.5

Modern Times was good. This sounds lame.

April 27th 2009


Let's hope his next album is stronger than this, and that he doesn't end his career by sliding into mediocrity. Fingers crossed.

April 27th 2009


I suppose every artist is entitled to a dry period I think he (Dylan) might better spend it in quiet reflection.

cept hes already had like 3 of them.
most unbearable being the christian gospel-esque bullshit from the 70s/80s

im going to see dylan this summer, hell yea
hope he doesnt play too much of dis shi
has anyone seen him recently?
do you know if he plays a good mix of classic/contemporary tunes?

good review, as per usual btw

April 27th 2009


i saw him two years ago and he played mostly recognizable stuff, it was a great show

April 29th 2009


Album Rating: 3.0

i thought i was going to be a little disappointed in this one, and i'll admit it's not great, but after a couple of listens, i gotta say i like it. some cheesy songs, some very uninspired lyrics, but i like the feel, and his vocal performance is pretty damn good.

whoever, by the way, told him he had the "blood of the land in (his) voice" deserves credit for writing the best line on the album. truly, no really really great lyrics on the record - and it's a shame. no "wounded flowers dangling from the vines"

can't agree with your love of "when the deal goes down" on the last album - and i do like the song he wrote for the movie on this one - a little bit of cheese, but it just gets me.

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