I really want to like this album. Really. And it starts out great. “Duquense Whistle,” left over from the last studio album, has an intriguing intro that sounds like music drifting in from a roadhouse a half mile ahead. Then it kicks in at exactly the right tempo, which anyone who’s ever played in a band knows is half the battle.
Likewise the up-tempo “Narrow Way” and the ballad “Soon After Midnight” follow up with a nice tone. But on a couple of tunes the lyrics are a little, I don’t know, perfunctory. Nobody can rhyme “moon” and “spoon” and pull it off the way Dylan can, but a lot of the couplets and verses just don’t say anything. You know, how a verse can have layers of implicit meanings and years later pop up and have even more unexpected ones? I just don’t see the potential.
The “long form” Dylan songs of the past tend to be favorites of mine. “Highlands,” “Brownsville Girl,” and of course the greats like “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” are songs I can’t get enough of. But the eponymous “Tempest,” at some 14 minutes a retelling of the sinking of the Titanic, just isn’t resonating. I’m not feeling anything new, or seeing things from a different angle, like I do when “Highlands” reminds me of recurring dreams I’d had.
But that doesn’t mean it’s altogether absent. “Early Roman Kings” has some of that symbolist mojo, and the “Pay In Blood” and “Scarlet Town” overflow, so to speak, with dark and sinister meanings.
But still the album on the whole lacks the sense of adventure that “Love and Theft” and “Modern Times” had, with their huge array of styles, rhythms and moods.