Bob Dylan began his career in 1962 and has been confounding his listeners ever since. Now, at the age of 71, he has released his 35th album, Tempest. The pattern that has been the hallmark of his last several records, since 2001's Love And Theft, at least, is again evident on his latest. Where the Dylan of the '60s and '70s was engaging, passionate and vital, the elder Bob seems content with epic tales of the sinking of the Titanic (the title cut) or songs about trains ("Duquesne Whistle").
Highway 61 Revisited it ain't.
There is nothing particularly wrong with Tempest. True, Dylan's "voice" is barely more than a Marlboro-heavy croak, and despite the big names -- Los Lobos' David Hidalgo and Charlie Sexton among others -- the band and the arrangements sound like an afterthought. He sings every lyric unadorned and plain, somehow relying on the words to command our attention, but they fail.
He tosses out lines such as "I pay in blood, but not my own" ("Pay in Blood") but never follows it up. Paid what? And whose blood? Rather than being allegorical, it just sounds like another catchy phrase on an album full of them, and little else. The most compelling song on the album, "Scarlet Town," reminds you somewhat of the Dylan of yore, but with lyrics such as "Set 'em Joe, play 'Walkin' the Floor'/Play it for my flat-chested junkie whore," it makes you wonder if Dylan really cares for the end result of his efforts.
And if that's the case, then why should we?