Bob Dylan was the last guy I thought I’d be excited to hear new music from in 2020. Sure, he’s an icon, but when was the last great record he put out? I saw Bob Dylan live in 2012, he was the headliner on one of the nights at Benicassim festival in Spain, but instead of playing at 11pm, he got on stage at 6pm. I guess the guy’s getting old. Anyway, the whole performance was outstandingly bad and he was clearly there for the pay check. I actually have it on good authority that the instruments were unplugged and we were all listening to a recording. After that, how could I ever be excited for a new Dylan album when his heart just isn’t in it anymore?
As it turns out, his heart’s in it more than it ever has. Rough and Rowdy Way is so romantic in not only its lyricism, but the actual music too. It jurist sounds romantic, y’know? Even when he’s singing about Kennedy, Dylan’s totally romanticising him. Over the past few weeks of listening to it non-stop, I have fallen in love with the record. Bob Dylan is the greatest poet of my lifetime, and the album is the most engaging of Dylan’s output of the last 20 years.
The album opens with “I Contain Multitudes” and it might be the funniest Dylan has ever been. It’s full of these non-sequiturs like “I drive fast cars, I eat fast food, I contain multitudes.” Dylan might not mean anything by what he says, but at the same time he could be talking about a thousand different things. It’s the best opener of the year and it settles you in to the next 70 minutes of gravelly sounding, diary entry lyricism nicely.
At the record’s best, it reminds me of a Joanna Newsom album in that a lot of the music is very bare bones but intricate and beautiful, and that there are just so many words on the album. And at the album’s worst, it unfortunately reminds me of the recent Sun Kil Moon albums when his band is just repeating the same chords until his he stops rambling. On “Crossing The Rubicon”, a track that lasts for close to eight minutes ruins that whole albums aesthetic with it’s monotonous rhythm that plods along and the only time Dylan doesn’t have anything prophetic or interesting to say. And as if the song isn’t lazy enough, it just fades out.
“False Prophet” is classic rock & roll and classically Dylan. It sounds good and it’s the liveliest the record gets but it again gets repetitive. The whole album is repetitive in a kind of tranquil way, but it seems that the livelier tracks ironically slow the album.
The slow, brooding tracks And, “I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You”, “Key West” of course, the big finale, the 17 minute long single “Murder Most Foul” are the heart of the album. The latter of which has instantly become one of Dylan’s greatest ever songs. Up there with the likes of “Like A Rolling Stone” and “Hurricane”. Dylan has never been more self referential or pop culture obsessed. It is the greatest closing song on an album in years.
Rough and Rowdy Ways is a work of art, man. It’s a shocking and insane comeback; it’s introspective, it’s regretful, and it’s funny among many other things. It’s amazing that this far in to his career, over 30 albums in, Dylan’s put out one of his finest to date.
Also, the title is a reference to J Dilla.