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Bob Dylan's Near Perfect Storm
The master songwriter's new record is called Tempest – and it includes both a tribute to John Lennon and an epic chantey on the sinking of the Titanic. A world exclusive preview by Anne Margaret Daniel.
Anne Margaret Daniel, 17 Aug 2012
Maybe the best thing of all about 'Duquesne', though, is that it rhymes with “train.” Are critics going to get how rich and eloquent and patterned the rhyming on this record is? I hope so. Dylan is among the best rhymers in the English language since Yeats, who was the best since Byron, who was the best since Pope, who was the best since Shakespeare. And I mean that.
'Soon After Midnight' is when some people’s days begin, true. Here, in the second song, it seems to be a whole brothelful of folks. We’re on Rue Morgue Avenue redux, but this place isn’t as terrifying and life-threatening at all; the setting of 'Soon After Midnight' is pretty mellow, really, and romantic, as such things go. The rhymes make you grin – of course Charlotte the harlot is going to be dressed in scarlet, while “Mary’s in green / I’ve got myself a date with the Faerie Queene” (at least that’s how I’m spelling it, the way Spenser did). This is honky-tonkin’ nostalgia, in the end, and Dylan’s current band has been playing Western-saloon, cowboy-band style long enough now to make it sound like late night in a border town as the words come full circle to the end. The ladies may treat him kindly, but where the singer really wants to be, ma’am, is with you.
'Narrow Way' shook me up a little – dark and gritty and one of which I can’t remember many specific details, because they were wiped away by the ensuing standout song 'Long And Wasted Years'. I remember a general biblical/messianic feel (not exactly unfamiliar, if you’ve always listened to Dylan). But 'Long and Wasted Years' is a punch in the jaw, a shove against the wall, from start to end. The scene here is of a guy in bed with a woman who’s talking in her sleep, saying things she shouldn’t, things for which one day she might end up in jail. There are zinger couplets, patterned internal rhymes here, a trail of linguistic breadcrumbs to a rocking gritty beat that lead from one harsh remarkable image to another. The song’s title being withheld until the end, and then drawn out in the last line in Dylan’s intense, bitingly enunciated voice, is genius.