Saturday 26 August 2006

Bob Dylan: Modern Times

Bob Dylan’s new album, Modern Times, will be released next week in the United States. But it was released today here in Australia (they don’t call this the “lucky country” for nothing!), so I hurried off to get a copy, and I’ve been listening to it all day.

Without wanting to spoil too many surprises for my American friends, let me just say that this is a stunning, magnificent album – even better than I had hoped. In one song, Dylan taunts: “You think I’m over the hill, think I’m past my prime” – if that’s what you’re think, then every song on this album will prove you wrong. By the time you get to the eighth track, “Nettie Moore,” you think the album has reached its climax. But nothing could prepare you for the final track, “Ain’t Talkin’” – a powerful, haunting apocalyptic epic which is as good as anything Dylan has written in the last 15 years.

As on his previous two albums, Time out of Mind (1997) and “Love and Theft” (2001), Dylan remains preoccupied with themes like love (“A lifetime with you is like some heavenly day”), ageing (“Hand me down my walkin’ cane”), memory (“I’m haunted by things I never meant or wished to say”), sin (“Got a pile of sins to pay for and I ain’t got time to hide”), failure (“My mule is sick, my horse is blind”), cities (“The bright spark of the steady lights has dimmed my sights”), social decay (“The world has gone black before my eyes”), and apocalypse (“… in the last outback at the world’s end”).

As usual, there are numerous biblical allusions: “No man, no woman knows the hour”; “We all wear the same thorny crown”; “I’m gonna be with you in paradise”; “Frailer than the flowers, these precious hours”; “I’m sweatin’ blood”; “I’m beginning to believe what the Scriptures tell”; “I’m tryin’ to love my neighbour and do good unto others / But, oh mother, things ain’t goin’ well.”

Further, some of the album’s best songs are concerned with faith. Here are some memorable lines:

“I practise a faith that’s been long abandoned,
Ain’t no altars on this long and lonesome road”

“Today I’ll stand in faith and raise the voice of praise.
The sun is strong, I’m standing in the light –
I wish to God that it were night.”

“Thunder on the mountain, rollin’ like a drum,
Gonna sleep over there, that’s where the music’s coming from,
Don’t need a guide, I already know the way.”

“The fire’s gone out but the light is never dying,
Who says I can’t get heavenly aid?”

“Preacher said salvation can be waitin’
Around the next bend in the road.”

“I’ve already confessed, don’t need to confess again.”


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the teaser. I'll look forward to grabbing a copy next week.

In a less than lucky country :)

::aaron g:: said...

Ben, perhaps you can recommend 1 Dylan album for the un-inducted. Is there a "best of" CD perhaps?

Anonymous said...

Hi Aaron.

I'm another big Dylan fan, and, unlike Ben, Dylan and I are from the same era - and country! (though Dylan is seven years older than I am - and a bit more wasted!). I like to boast that I saw Dylan, with the Band as back-up, at his famous come-back appearance at the Isle of Wight Festival in the summer of '69.

Anyway, if you're looking for a single disc compilation I'd recommend The Best of Bob Dylan (1997), which includes 18 Dylan classics up to and including "Jokerman" from the 1983 album Infidels (though I can't remember - perhaps Ben will remind us - which album "Everything is broken" is on). Ben will be more familiar than I am with the post-'80s material. After Ben's review of Modern Times, I now feel like a child waiting for Christmas!

Anonymous said...

It was 'Album of the Week' on Radio 2 and I concur with Ben - it is splendid stuff.

::aaron g:: said...

Thanks Kim!

Ben Myers said...

Aaron, there's a good but cheap double-CD called "The Essential Bob Dylan" which has a good selection of some of his best songs up until 1997.

Anonymous said...

Everything is Broken is off of Oh Mercy!- a splendid little album.

Brannon Hancock said...

Aaron (and anybody else) - I'm way late coming w/ this, but it must be said...No! Don't buy one of the many Dylan 'best of' CDs if you're uninitiated and looking for a place to begin - buy Blood on the Tracks - go rush out and do it, immediately, and with great joy.

After that - and some would vehemently disagree - move on to Nashville Skyline or go back to one of the early records like his self-titled debut or The Times They are A-Changin' or The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. You've gotta get into the Bob Dylan who SINGS before you can appreciate the whiny-singing self parody of the quite overrated (again, it must be said - although I know I risk all kinds of slander for saying so) Blonde on Blonde era, and also, for that matter, before you can really come along with the gravelly old-geezer to where he's taking you on the last three records (Time Out of Mind, Love & Theft, and Modern Times), all of which are absolutely brilliant.

Thanks so much for the review, Ben - I picked up the limited edition w/ the bonus DVD this afternoon and have been groovin' to it all day.

Ben Myers said...

This is good advice, Brannon: in the heavens above and on earth below, there is nothing else like Blood on the Tracks, so it would be an excellent place to begin.

But Blonde on Blonde overrated? I'd sooner believe that sex was overrated, or oxygen....

Brannon Hancock said...

Man, I knew I was gonna get it for that! Let me adapt my comment from the other Dylan thread - even a "bad" Dylan album is about the best album you could pick up on a given day, even Blonde on Blonde...even some of his late-70s and 80s stuff! Just to keep things in perspective. Still, I do not think it is one of his best efforts - revolutionary, yes, and certainly essential not just to a Dylan collection but to any record collection (cf. Jack Black's comment to a customer in High Fidelity: "Don't tell anyone you don't own f---ing Blonde on Blonde!") - but overrated as a piece of work unto itself. I don't think my hang-up is simply that it's not a personal favorite - I think it actually lacks some of the musical purity and lyrical substance found on other albums and is somewhat uneven (again) as an album. But it's still easily desert-island worthy.

But I know I'm the odd man out on this one. My relationship w/ Dylan is generally odd, though - my entree into his music was Nashville Skyline. How weird is that?!

Anonymous said...

People make all kinds of entrees into Dylan. I personally think the best way is to get the current album. Especially when it's this one.

Brannon Hancock said...

The more I spin it, the more I agree, Sean. I also think watching the recent Scorsese film (No Direction Home) ought to be sufficient to make anyone fall in love with Dylan. That might be one of the best entrees...

Anonymous said...

Oh Mercy, Blood on the Tracks, and No Direction Home-- yep. If you needed any preparation for Modern Times, that would do it. But beware, any newbies-- you gonna fall hard.

It's good Bob is not (quite) as insanely beautiful as he was at age 23 or 30. Age has treated him well, in some ways, providing a craggy backdrop for all this gorgeous thought and wordplay, apart from the handsome walk and scowl.

Looking to read Chronicles this fall, myself.

Caleb said...

My two cents' worth on which Dylan album to start with...

The Freewheeling Bob Dylan (1963)

It's his first album of originals, so you're basically starting at the start. It's also one of his most simple albums - most of the tracks are just him on vocals and acoustic guitar. And that's all Bob Dylan needs.

It also has amazing songs like Masters of War, Girl from the North Country, A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, Don't Think Twice, It's Alright, and the era-defining Blowin' In The Wind (Any of these songs would be the highlight of most artists' careers).

Still, you can't really go wrong with Blood on the Tracks either.

Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 are great, but they seem a bit less accessible than his acoustic albums. I personally think he's at his strongest when acoustic, but having said that, he's been awesome in many different styles, from country to folk to blues to rock to gospel.

Have a look at his discography on - any of the 5-star albums would be a good start.

Don't get a greatest hits, it's a waste of time as it takes the songs out of their original context, and if you're anything like me you'll probably end up buying a lot of his standard albums anyway, rendering the compilation irrelavent (I haven't listened to my Essential Bob Dylan in years).

Post a Comment


Contact us

Although we're not always able to reply, please feel free to email the authors of this blog.

Faith and Theology © 2008. Template by Dicas Blogger.