Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Review of the new Dylan album

Appearing on the cover next week: Hoobastank

The new Bob Dylan album came out on Tuesday. Because I’m an uber-hipster I got it Monday night  The album is called Modern Times and has been getting incredible reviews. What I’ve realized is that first of all I don’t really enjoy reading most album reviews before I’ve heard an album. They usually talk about each of the tracks and try to describe what they sound like. It never really resonates with me. Describing music is pretty much impossible. All you can do is describe how an album impacts you. Does it make you dance, tap your toe, think, cry? If you review an album a day its hard to really give anything a fair listen and be impacted by it. Second, most reviewers are idiots. I think this seems especially true when reviewing really great albums. I don’t disagree that Modern Times is outstanding and shows Dylan in top form as has been mentioned by many. But each review I’ve perused for the most part just repeats the same things.
•Modern Times is a anything but modern, the title is kind of a joke
•The music brings you back to another era
•It’s the third part of a trilogy with Time out of Mind and Love and Theft
•When the Levee Breaks is about New Orleans

Generally speaking I really feel the critics are missing the point. They’re always so in-tuned with every word Dylan is saying that they over analyze everything. They did this in the 60’s and they kept doing it up until his last album. I don’t need them to point out every great line he has, just like I don’t need them to write about when he has a weak lyric. If Dylan has a sloppy lyric it might stick out a bit because his words are usually so sharp. However, sometimes that is all right; music isn’t supposed to be so serious all the time. Many reviews keep bringing up the fact that he references Alicia Keys in the album’s first track. OK, so what? They talk about how he is commenting on New Orleans. But do most people honestly want to know what Dylan thinks about social issues? I mean nobody loves him more than me (ok that might not be true), but have you seen or heard him lately? I wouldn’t exactly say we share the same perspective on the world, or that he has a perspective about politics or society that is really more insightful than any other musicians. Again, that’s not the point. What the album does is draw parallels between yesterday and today by telling stories with timeless melodies. It creates a mood, reminds you that there are people in the world who don’t see things the same as you do. The perspective could be his, could be mine, could be a family who lost their house in the hurricane, a man who lost job at the factory or it could be just a kid in love. When he’s at his best each song is a miniature book, and the music helps create the setting. And he achieves that a lot on this album. Its up to you to figure out if that story is about you or Bob Dylan in 2006 or even about Jack Frost in 1933 (the album was produced by Jack Frost, the same man who wrote the movie Masked & Anonymous…it’s also a pseudonym Dylan uses).

The music is based in swing, jump, blues and country. It sounds old, like you’re listening to the radio in the 50’s. But that doesn’t make it any less modern. Think of a time when you watched a movie that uses a blues song or a folk song in a way that really makes you listen to it differently than you would have just because of when and how it was played (the O’ Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack is a great example). You may not normally listen to that music, but you do it this instance because of the setting. Modern Times is no different. It uses the music as a vehicle for Dylan to display his greatest talents which are great lyrics and an ability to sing in a way that you really connect with the characters in the story. Sometimes they’re old love stories, sometimes it’s about the poor and sometimes it’s about New Orleans. Either way it’s about the people that you’re close to and it’s about some of those people you might have forgotten about; in good times and bad. I think that those are some of the most modern themes I can think of.

Overall Hops Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
My Favorite Tracks: Workingman’s Blues #2, Nettie More, The Levee’s Gonna Break
Where to Listen: Would make great kitchen music, also great for driving around a place you’ve never been before.
Why to buy: It’s Bob Dylan and it’s truly Americana music.
Why not to buy: If you’re looking for something that is more pop oriented or something that you’ll feel cool blasting out your car when driving then this is not for you.

PS – Avid reader, Boaz commented “how do you like that new dylan album? he's blatantly ripping songs off without giving credit, kind of weird”. My response is that Boaz is right. Dylan has been ripping people off for years. But really that is the basis of folk music. You steal a song, add a verse, change a lyric, change a melody. Dylan then rips himself off by doing the same things to his own songs. I have a CD of “tracks that inspired Dylan” and has old folk songs and sea shanty’s. Often you can hear the exact same lyrics as Dylan used like “go away from my window, leave at your own chosen speed”. The Scorcese doc on Dylan has some good examples of where his roots came from and how he lifted what he liked and didn’t like. I like to think Modern Times is paying homage to that music rather than stealing it. After all, its not like the music itself is original, its just that people forgot about it.


Anonymous said...

yeah, i really like the song when the deal goes down, its my favorite one, sounds like sinatra.

however to call a song rollin' and tumblin' and say you wrote it is like someone putting out a song calling like a rolling stone and changing the verses to something else.

also in the past he has given credit to songs he's lifted. its ok to record the songs, but at least give credit if you're gonna pay tribute because that's what paying tribute is. everyone gives credit when they cover those older blues songs.


Question everything said...

"But do most people honestly want to know what Dylan thinks about social issues?"

Isn't that a huge factor in Dylan becaming famous in the first place, that he had strong views and expressed them in song?

Anonymous said...

I remember that people wanted him to be some sort of social symbol. but he shyed away from that. The times they are a-chaging is the protest song era, and the era of running around with joan baez. Back then people cared a little too much about what he was saying. The answer to that is the song it ain't me you're looking for. He watned to releave himself from the expectations and to state that he will not live other people's expectations, not even joan's. no matter how hot she was in the 60's and 70's, bob stuck to his guns. although there were some protest songs on another side of bob. even he said "i am a liberal, but to a degree. i just want everyone to be free"


Hops said...

I think you're right Boaz. Dylan used to be the "voice" but he intentionally left that podium. Then after years of no one listening to him suddenly he's the voice of the people again? I just think its people wanted to hear what they already think. My point is that he isnt trying to voice his opinion per say, he's just trying to be an eyewitness. Its a major difference and one that should be noted.