- 19 Jun 20
Not Dark Yet
Has Dylan still got it? Should anybody still care? Not only did the man behind the shades throw out three singles to the bunkered faithful in the last couple of months, but he also managed, just before his 79th birthday, to have his first Billboard No. 1 with a seventeen-minute rumination on the Kennedy assassination. Pick the bones outta that.
Those great American songbook records were pretty patchy, but perhaps by plugging back into tradition, like he did when Good As I’ve Been To You and World Gone Wrong allowed him to produce the masterpiece Time Out Of Mind, he has gone backwards to go forward. Let there be no bones made about it, Rough And Rowdy Ways is, in places, better than anything Dylan has done since that high-water mark.
The singles you should already know – repurposing Walt Whitman to sing of his own body electric with ‘I Contain Multitudes’, channelling Mark Anthony to call out the fall of American while ostensibly eulogising a slain Caesar in ‘Murder Most Foul’ and, best of all, giving it some Minnie The Moocher at Chess Records boogie on the “I’m Bob Dylan, and You Ain’t” ‘False Prophet’. As always, Dylan knew what he was doing, whetting the appetite of the most captive audience of all time. And he wasn’t even teasing us with the best tunes.
Over a descending four-note riff that could have sound tracked Orson Welles skulking in the shadows, Dylan starts ‘My Own Version Of You’ robbing body parts morgues and monasteries to combine Pacino and Brando into a robot commando. The rockin' and rollin' ‘Goodbye Jimmy Reed’ – “never pandered, never acted proud” - and even ‘I Crossed The Rubicon’ – “the bones beneath my skin are trembling with rage” - both hark, however faintly, back to that glorious thin, wild mercury sound of Blonde On Blonde, and ‘I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You’ is his greatest love song since ‘Make You Feel My Love’. Step back from unpacking the meaning of it all and simply sit with Dylan on his terrace, under the stars, and listen to the sad guitars. It could be about a woman, it could be about the road, or it could be about America herself. It doesn’t really matter.
He’s on the road again in the majestic ‘Key West (Philosopher Pirate)’, driving South and “searching for love and inspiration on that pirate radio station” over a gentle accordion's lilt. The song’s near ten-minutes length passes too quickly. This record’s not quite perfect, ‘Black Rider’, ‘Mother Of Muses’ and ‘Murder Most Foul’ might, perhaps, be easier to admire than to love, but no matter. The artist that invented a new kind of poetry in ‘Gates Of Eden’ or crammed an entire movie into ‘Romance In Durango’ is still in there.
Academics who can’t dance will fill unread books dissecting the library of historical reference, and the cast of characters - Truman, Kerouac, Shakespeare, Freud, Marx, Elvis, the apostles and Bo Diddley - engrained in these grooves. The rest of us can just be thankful that the greatest song and dance man of them all is still rolling; the world will be an eternally greyer place when Bob Dylan is no longer in it.