Tempest (Bob Dylan album)
Tempest is the thirty-fifth studio album by American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, released on September 10, 2012 by Columbia Records. The album was recorded at Jackson Browne's Groove Masters Studios in Santa Monica, California. Dylan wrote all of the songs himself with the exception of the track "Duquesne Whistle", which he co-wrote with Robert Hunter.
Tempest was well received by music critics, who praised its traditional music influences and Dylan's dark lyrics. The album peaked at number three on the Billboard 200.
Rolling Stone reported that the fourteen-minute long title track "Tempest" is about the RMS Titanic and includes references to the James Cameron film Titanic (1997). The song "Roll on John" is a tribute to John Lennon. It includes references to some of his songs, including The Beatles' "Come Together" and "A Day in the Life."
The album's title initially spurred rumors that it would be Dylan's final album, based on its similarity to the title of Shakespeare's final play. Dylan later responded: "Shakespeare's last play was called The Tempest. It wasn't called just plain "Tempest". The name of my record is just plain Tempest. It's two different titles." This assertion was further disproved when Shadows in the Night was released in 2015.
The cover art for Tempest incorporates a dark red duotone photograph of a statue located at the base of the Pallas-Athene Fountain in front of the Austrian Parliament Building in Vienna. The statue is one of four figures on the intermediate platform of the fountain bowl personifying the main rivers of Austria-Hungary: the Danube, the Inn, the Elbe, and the Moldau. The figure shown on the album cover represents the Moldau. The sculpture was created by Carl Kundmann between 1893 and 1902 based on architect Theophil Hansen's original plans. The photograph was taken by Alexander Längauer from his Shutterstock portfolio, and the package was designed by Coco Shinomiya. As with all Dylan albums of the past 15 years, the packaging features minimal credits and no printed lyrics. The deluxe limited edition CD includes a 60-page notebook of rare vintage magazines with Bob Dylan on frontcover. The covers are from the collections of Magne Karlstad and Oddbjørn Saltnes.
Tempest was released on September 10, 2012, in the United Kingdom and September 11 in the United States. It was announced for release on July 17, 2012 through a press release on Dylan's official web site. The release was issued as a CD and an LP, and as a digital download through online retailers. Various pre-order packages were available from Dylan's official online store including a combined CD/MP3 download of the album, an LP-only version, and two CD/LP bundles including a signature Bob Dylan Hohner harmonica in the different keys and an exclusive 11"x17" poster. A segment of "Early Roman Kings" was featured in a Cinemax commercial for the TV series Strike Back: Vengeance and "Scarlet Town" was featured during the end credits of the first two episodes, both of which aired on August 17, 2012. "Duquesne Whistle", written by Dylan and Robert Hunter, was released as the album's single, along with an accompanying music video; the video was directed by Nash Edgerton, who had directed videos for previous Dylan songs. Rolling Stone wrote that the video "initially seems like a Charlie Chaplin-inspired bit of light comedy", but that it takes a "shockingly dark turn".
Tempest was widely acclaimed by contemporary music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 83, which indicates "universal acclaim", based on 31 reviews.
In his review in Rolling Stone magazine, Will Hermes gave the album five out of five stars, calling it "musically varied and full of curveballs" and "the single darkest record in Dylan's catalog." According to Hermes, the album draws upon elements common throughout Dylan's career—especially the last three albums—with music that is "built from traditional forms and drawing on eternal themes: love, struggle, death." Hermes continues:
Lyrically, Dylan is at the top of his game, joking around, dropping wordplay and allegories that evade pat readings and quoting other folks' words like a freestyle rapper on fire. "Narrow Way" is one of Dylan's most potent rockers in years, and it borrows a chorus from the Mississippi Sheiks' 1934 blues "You'll Work Down to Me Someday". "Scarlet Town" draws on verses by 19th-century Quaker poet and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier; and allusions to Louis Armstrong and the Isley Brothers pop up elsewhere.
The title track, about the sinking of the RMS Titanic, is a 14-minute epic consisting of 45 verses and no chorus, with an Irish melody supported by accordion and fiddle. The song depicts a series of horrifying scenes—of passengers falling into the icy waters, dead bodies "already floating", men turning against other men in murderous acts—presented against acts of bravery, such as one man "offering his lifeboat seat to a crippled child." The closing track, according to Hermes, is a "prayer from one great artist to another", John Lennon, and stands as a reminder that "Dylan now stands virtually alone among his 1960s peers. His own final act, meanwhile, rolls on. It's a thing to behold."
In his review for American Songwriter, Jim Beviglia gave the album four and a half out of five stars, calling it "the kind of meaty offering that his most ardent fans desire most." The deceptively gentle instrumental passage at the start of "Duquesne Whistle", Beviglia observes, is a perfect opening to an album of "sudden juxtapositions and mood shifts that occur not just within songs but sometimes within verses." Through the easy tempo of "Soon After Midnight", the grinding blues of "Narrow Way", the soulful guitar lines of "Long and Wasted Years", and the remorseless biting lyrics of "Pay In Blood", Dylan captures "humanity, in all of its flawed glory, at every turn." The musical antecedents of some of these songs are transparent: "Duquesne Whistle" from "Thunder on the Mountain", "Scarlet Town" from "Ain't Talkin'", "Tin Angel" from "Man in the Long Black Coat" and "Black Jack Davey", "Early Roman Kings" from the blues classic "Mannish Boy", and "Pay In Blood" from "Idiot Wind" or "Like a Rolling Stone". Dylan's singing is strong on the album, especially on songs like "Long and Wasted Years", where he toys with the phrasing of each line, teasing out "every bit of hurt in this tale of love gone wrong." "His voice may be shredded," Breviglia observes, "but he can still interpret a song like no other."
Beviglia notes that the ambitious three-song run concluding the album "should silence any doubts, if they exist, that Dylan is still at the top of his game." "Tin Angel" tells a story of a lovers' triangle that turns into a "Shakespearean body pile, providing plenty of fodder for Dylanologists looking for symbols and hidden meanings." The title track, according to Breviglia, may be a metaphor for how mankind is "headed unknowingly toward an unfortunate fate" with Dylan examining how people react—"some nobly, some horribly, when put to the ultimate test." The closing track, "Roll On John", veers between biographical elements and Lennon song lyrics, presenting what Beviglia calls the "oft-overlooked soft side of Dylan" that is truly touching. Beviglia concludes:
Unlike the Titanic watchman fast asleep at his post, Bob Dylan's eyes are as wide open as ever, even when he's looking back. On this album, he depicts all he sees with his typical insight, dexterity, and honesty, yet he still has ways of doing so that upend all expectations. Tempest is fantastic, but being impressed by Dylan is old hat. That he still finds ways to surprise us is an achievement beyond all comprehension.
In his review in the Los Angeles Times, Randall Roberts wrote, "Few American writers, save Mark Twain, have spoken so eloquently and consistently at such a steady, honest clip, and the evidence continues on Tempest." According to Randall, the album reveals a "master storyteller" at work as Dylan "continues to explore the various strands of early American roots music that he internalized as he matured."
At their best, new songs such as "Scarlet Town," "Tin Angel" and "Roll On, John" show an artist swirling in musical repetition and the joy of longevity. Each is longer than seven minutes and each deserves to be heard again the moment it ends. He mixes these longer narratives with a few four-minute, expertly crafted gems that float like whittled wooden birds come to life—especially "Long and Wasted Years," a bitter song about a dead marriage.
Randall is less enthusiastic about the longer pieces "Narrow Way" and the title track, noting that "even a master craftsman sometimes needs an editor." Randall concludes, "Dylan lives in every molecule of our being, has taught us about lyrical possibility, has reveled in the joy of words and the power and glory of making things up from scratch."
In his review in The Guardian, Alexis Petridis gave the album four out of five stars, but downplayed some of the superlatives offered by other reviewers who have compared Tempest to some of Dylan's finest work. In his consumer guide for MSN Music, Robert Christgau gave the album a "B+", offering a similar complaint about the "autohype machine" and how some of the reviews were overly positive. Christgau was also unimpressed with the title track, as well as the two closing numbers, which "aim higher with dubious-to-disgraceful results." In his review in The Sun, Simon Cosyns gave the album five out of five stars, calling it "a magnificent beast of an album". According to Cosyns, the album "continues Dylan's rich vein of late-career form" and in some ways surpasses his recent albums based on "sheer lyrical and vocal power while managing to stretch the familiar old timey sonic palette in all sorts of unexpected ways."
In his review in The Daily Telegraph, Neil McCormick called the album "among his best ever". According to McCormick, the songs on Tempest reveal a Dylan "genuinely fired up by the possibilities of language" and that the entire album "resounds with snappy jokes and dark ruminations, vivid sketches and philosophical asides." McCormick continued:
Tempest is certainly his strongest and most distinctive album in a decade. The sound is a distillation of the jump blues, railroad boogie, archaic country and lush folk that Dylan has been honing since 2001's Love and Theft, played with swagger and character by his live ensemble and snappily produced by the man himself. A notoriously impatient recording artist, Dylan seems to have found a style that suits his working methods. Drawing on the early 20th-century Americana that first grabbed his attention as a young man (and that he celebrated in his Theme Time Radio Hour shows) and surrounding himself with slick, intuitive musicians capable of charging these nostalgic grooves with contemporary energy, his late-period albums seem a continuation of his tours, as if he rolls right off the stage and into the studio and just keeps rocking.
In his review for the Chicago Tribune, Greg Kot gave the album three and a half out of four stars, calling it "an inspired mix of blood and bawdiness." Kot called Dylan a "masterful storyteller, by turns murderous, mischievous and tender, sometimes all at once." In his review on Uncut, Allan Jones gave the album ten out of ten stars, calling it "the most far-reaching, provocative and transfixing album of Dylan’s later career. Nothing about it suggests a swansong, adios or fond adieu." In his review in The Gazette, Bernard Perusse gave the album five out of five stars, noting that it "ranks among Dylan's darker works, largely because it has the highest death toll." In his review in the Tampa Bay Times, Sean Daly gave the album an "A" rating, calling it "breathtaking but bleak" and a "mesmerizing record".
In her review for USA Today, Edna Gundersen gave the album four out of four stars, calling it "brilliant". According to Gundersen, Dylan's "peerless powers as a wordplay wizard and consummate storyteller" have not diminished with age, and that Tempest continues in the vein of his recent albums, "steeped in tradition and bent toward blues." Dylan's voice is ideal for these songs, Gundersen noted, whether he's describing a triple murder-suicide in "Tin Angel" or vilifying modern robber barons in "Early Roman Kings". Beneath the humor and mayhem Dylan layers "sexual and political metaphors and bigger truths about human nature, twisted morals, fate and mortality."
Anne Margaret Daniel, writing in Hot Press, described Tempest as "Breathtaking, mythmaking, heartbreaking, the songs and ballads of Bob Dylan's Tempest are composed of intricately patterned rhyme and sound. No other songwriter can marry words and music as richly as Dylan can, and the perfect-ten tracks of this record come straight to us from a bard's ear and a poet's pen."
Track listingAll songs written and composed by Bob Dylan except where noted.
|1.||"Duquesne Whistle" (Dylan, Robert Hunter)||5:43|
|2.||"Soon After Midnight"||3:27|
|4.||"Long and Wasted Years"||3:46|
|5.||"Pay in Blood"||5:09|
|7.||"Early Roman Kings"||5:16|
|10.||"Roll on John"||7:25|
- Additional musicians
- Tony Garnier – bass guitar
- Donnie Herron – steel guitar, banjo, violin, mandolin
- David Hidalgo – guitar, accordion, violin
- Stu Kimball – guitar
- George G. Receli – drums
- Charlie Sexton – guitar
- Technical personnel
- William Claxton – back cover photography
- Scott Litt – engineering, recording, mixing
- Dana Nielsen – recording, mixing
- John Shearer – booklet photography
- Coco Shinomiya – package design
- Shutterstock / A. Längauer – front cover photography
- Albert Watson – additional booklet photography
|United Kingdom||September 10, 2012||CD, LP, digital download||Columbia Records||88725157602|
|United States||September 11, 2012||N/A|
|Australia Albums Chart||8|
|Austria Albums Chart||1|
|Belgium Albums Chart (Flanders)||2|
|Croatian Albums Chart||1|
|Dutch Albums Chart||1|
|Finland Albums Chart||3|
|Ireland Albums Chart||2|
|Italy Albums Chart||2|
|New Zealand Albums Chart||2|
|Norway Albums Chart||1|
|Poland Albums Chart||9|
|Spain Albums Chart||2|
|Sweden Albums Chart||1|
|Switzerland Albums Chart||2|
|UK Albums Chart||3|
|US Billboard 200||3|
|Belgian Albums Chart (Flanders)||51|
|Dutch Albums Chart||32|
|Swedish Albums Chart||31|
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