Bob Dylan - Together Through Life
2009; Colombia; ...I don't know where he lives now but he's generaly associated with New York City
Um....shit. How do you expect me to do this? I mean, is there any harder guy to review new albums of in the world?
Ok, here goes...
I do not believe in comebacks. Or very rarely. Once a band has realised a true true stinker or lost their vitally in some other way I almost never believe they can get it back. I mean, I'm sure the Rolling Stones' latest is ok, and it got pretty good reviews and all, but the moment Steel Wheels hit shelves The Stones were over. And though I'm sure the new one is quite listenable and all but it would be very hard for me to believe that it is in any way exciting or new. Both the Stones and the Stones' fan base want them to create more material like their 1970's work and because of that they walk in increasingly smaller circles. But the Stones stayed relevant for twenty five years and that is a feat. Oasis had three years and two albums before Be Here Now came out and ever since they've been trying to get back to their britpop glory. The Strokes had one album before they stopped mattering. There are some exceptions, Portishead, Nick Cave, Sonic Youth, but these are very rare and far between.
Bob Dylan is a strange case, and initially I wouldn't give his new stuff a second glance. He has dropped a number of bad albums in the past, and further more his stuff is decisively backwards looking. But hes not trying to replicate his own past. He will never make another album that sounds even remotely like Another Side or Highway 61 Revisited. The past he takes his incentive from now is 40's and 50's R&B, blues, and early rock. And on top of that his late period (everything in the last twenty years or from Oh Mercy on) sounds very very dense. Thick. As if it was recorded in a very small room filled with smoke. The backing band never seems to have very much of their written and instead seems to solo off each other through out the whole thing, like cars running back and forth behind Dylan's vocals. Hell, I when people used to ask me for an introduction to Bob Dylan I used to hand them a cd recounting his great songs going backwards from '98 to '63. Most people never made it to Jokerman. No one made it to Don't Think Twice.
But you have to understand, this density, this rambling thick blues, is rebellion. This is because his fans want him to be the Stones and make mediocre material reminiscent of his old self. This is Bob Dylan reaching for the past not out of sentimentality or nostalgia but because he hates everything around him. Listen too him. He is bitter. He is as angry as he was when he wrote Ballad of a Thin Man, angrier maybe. And because of this EVERY SINGLE ALBUM HE RELEASES HAS TO BE TAKEN AS SERIOUSLY AS IF IT CAME OUT IN '63. Are we understood with that? There will be no pity review, no 'well, you know, I have a lot of respect for what the guy did back then so I'll be nice", none of any of that crap.
And hell, I didn't like Modern Times. Its grown on me quite a bit since my purchase in 2006 but at the time I was pissed off, I felt betrayed. There was so much praise heaped on that album, it seemed to me to just be another Bigger Bang. And though I have come to see the worth in that album (well, the singles at least) it was still upsetting to me to see Dylan so old, so dry, so...inert. Together Through Life is almost everything Modern Times isn't. Its dynamic, its moving, it feels young, and most importantly, right away it feels vital. It also, wile still feeling quite dense, is quite a bit more spaced out then the last three albums, it gives you almost the feeling of being right there with him in some dive.
Bob Dylan has always had a penchant for the blues, some of my favorite of his from the sixty's fall into the twelve bar format, but at this point in time we can go as far as to call it his main style of movement. Bob Dylan these days is an electric blues artist, taking much more from John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters then Woody Guthrie. The instruments of his backing band are all but constantly soloing, guitar lines swirling around infront of the walking bass line. The album also showcases heavy use of, inexplicably, an accordion that sounds like a bridge between eclectic guitar and a pipe organ.
And to tell the truth, I would be ecstatically calling this the best blues album since Texas Flood (well, actually, I think De Stijl was better then Texas Flood but no one will back me up there) if it were made by a new artist. It is full of the kind of passion that you don't expect from a man pushing seventy. The songs are weighty, angry, and bitter. There's the shouting or the distorted guitars but you'll find that "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'" and the amazing "It's All Good" burn every bit as hot as, say, Modest Mouse's "The Devil's Workday". The stand out for me though continues to be "Life Is Hard" which is resigned and beautiful through its tense feel.
I'm guessing its not going to get rave reviews from anyone else. How could it? We are all so expecting him to follow in the path of, well, every other artist from his generation. And the media gave so much praise to the last three albums that it would make them feel redundant to love this one as well. Not to mention another stylistic shift. None the less, in my mind this is his best album since Oh Mercy, probably better then Oh Mercy even. Hopefully we'll have some other old artists realize they're still alive and start making music to reflect it. But I wouldn't count on it.
1. Beyond Here Lies Nothin'
2. Life Is Hard
3. My Wife's Home Town
4. If You Ever Go To Houston
5. Forgetful Heart
7. This Dream Of You
8. Shake Shake Mama
9. I Feel A Change Comin' On
10. It's All Good
for as long as love will last