Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Bob Dylan-Modern Times

Let’s call bullshit on this idea that “Modern Times” is a modern masterpiece that neatly completes a master-stroke trilogy of classic Dylan albums. Two words: it ain’t. So now that we’ve disposed of all of the hype (you think Bobby himself had a say in it, anyway?) it’s time to reveal what “Modern Times” really is: an album that more than anything else mirrors some of Dylan’s AM radio drift as a young boy in Minnesota. That’s concerning to me; I always viewed him as a forward looking artist that’s not interested in revisiting his past. “Modern Times” seems hellbent on nostalgia, both lyrically and musically, as this is surely an album that would please even his own Grandparents.
Let’s call bullshit on the idea that “Modern Times” is supposed to compete with legitimate masterpieces, i.e.: the real classic trilogies, and the entire notion we can even critique recent efforts with the same pen as Bob circa ‘65, ‘75, ‘85, or even ’95. And fans have to get used to the idea that the reason “Modern Times” isn’t a modern masterpiece isn’t because it’s no “Blonde On Blonde,” it’s because it’s not even the same caliber as “Time Out Of Mind” or “Love And Theft.” The truth is, those albums are better, and I would put them closer to essential Dylan than his latest.
This is critical. If you’re looking for a looking-glass into those eras, may I point you in the direction home of something called The Bootleg Series? After all, if you’re going to compare apples to apples, here, then at least keep it in the same orchard. The fruit of “Modern Times” is clearly from an older tree, and that’s why it’s important to judge it with the trees that have a similar number of rings.

Much has been made of Bob’s recent cranking about how most modern-day studio techniques sound like “static” and, to that point, his latest album sounds impeccably under-produced. The music has depth and focus; it’s about as retro sounding that a modern studio could contrive. So the issue isn’t really that Dylan hasn’t attempted to make another “modern” sounding album or that there’s not enough Lanois mystery to hold it together sonically. The problem is that it sounds so utterly pedestrian at times, and I’m not used to seeing Dylan walking down the sidewalk, waxing poetic about Alicia Keys.
“Thunder On The Mountain,” the lead-off track that features the curious Keys reference is one of the better tracks. Actually, it’s one of Dylan’s better tracks, period. We get a glimpse of angry Bob (“Gonna raise me an army, some tough sons-a-bitches”), funny Bob (“I’ve sucked the milk out of a thousand cows”), horny Bob (“I got the pork chop, she got the pie”) and the Bob that wants you to believe he’s nothin’ special anymore (“I’ve already confessed, I don’t need to confess again”), all in the span of six minutes. Of course, by the end of those six minutes, you’re looking for more signs of that lyrical prowess in the rest of the album. You’ll get it, of course, in a nice tepid package that manage to evoke the music bed of an Ipod commercial while being clearly uncommercial at the same time. Only Dylan himself could create such a dichotomy.
So while we’re discussing the 31st album of his career, no doubt that Bob is having a blast working with his band, making music that’s entirely un-modern and surprisingly complacent at the same time.

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