‘Rough’ in terms of the mostly spoken vocals, but only ‘rowdy’ if you’re approaching your 80th birthday, which of course Dylan is. This is a sometimes playful and often self-deprecating Nobel Laureate at work, the lyrics (like the vocals) carrying a whiff of late Leonard Cohen, the arrangements of some of the slower, if not funereal, songs a nod to Tom Waits.
In ‘I Contain Multitudes’, the grizzled old boomer has given us his best song since ‘Idiot Wind’; like many on here, the delicate melody is implied by the chord changes rather than explicitly stated. But what a pleasure to hear wit and articulacy in a pop song, as Dylan tells us he’s ‘just like Anne Frank, like Indiana Jones and them British bad boys, the Rolling Stones’, the song title hewn from Walt Whitman’s ‘Song of Myself’. It is the loveliest and most poignant new song I have heard in a few decades and worth the price of the album many times over.
The rest? I could do without the kick-ass blues grinds — but then I always could, right back to The Basement Tapes and Blonde on Blonde. I could also do without his 16-minute meditation on the Kennedy assassination, ‘Murder Most Foul’. The more didactic Dylan gets, the less I like him. (Anyone remember ‘Hurricane’ or the banalities of ‘Percy’s Song’?) But ‘Mother of Muses’ and ‘Black Rider’ send a pleasant chill down the spine. There is not the condensed fury and magnificence of Blood on the Tracks, nor the eclectic bravura of Blonde on Blonde. But remarkably, this would fit comfortably in a top ten of Dylan albums.