The songs are new but the format is familiar: a retro bluesabilly chassis – Messrs Sexton, Receli and Garnier are still on board – conveying the poetry of American misfortune into the darkness, phrase upon phrase, as if American misfortune were limitless and mythological, like scripture.
These days, Dylan’s records differ from his radio programmes only in that he sings on them. If you can call it singing. King Lear probably sounded like this after a couple of days on the heath.
Tempest is Dylan’s first proper effort in three years. There are 10 songs on it, one – the attractively shuffling “Duquesne Whistle” – co-written with Robert Hunter of the Dead. Some of them, such as “Early Roman Kings”, sound as if they have been chipped out, image by image, from a straining imagination. Others grip better than that. “Scarlet Town” may turn out to be a keeper. The nine pregnant minutes of “Tin Angel” exert a terrible grip on that part of the brain which enjoys puzzles. But then again, the 14 minutes of the title track might be considered too many, especially given the stuntedness of the tune which drives its dream of the Titanic.
There it is. Ague and the tempest of failing powers haunt every note. The isle is full of noises.