Bob Dylan has always had a way of dragging even the most stone-cold-sober of souls into his tavern of bluesy, electrified-barstool-folk. Love him or hate him, Dylan’s impact on the music industry is undeniable, having influenced nearly every band in existence since Leary’s psychedelic-sixties. Even at the weathered age of 65, Dylan proves once again that he’s still got a few tricks up his sleeve with his new album “Modern Times.”The album sounds like it was recorded in a small pub, amidst the smell of cigarettes and cheap booze. You can almost see the drunken barfly swaying her way across the room to the sound of Dylan’s trademark vocal rasp. This may be a new album, yet there is very little newness about it. It’s pretty much the same old feel-pity-for-the-working-man blues-folk-rock that Dylan has made famous for almost half a century. That’s not to say that’s such a bad thing, though.
All the stuff that makes Bob Dylan so great can be found on this record. Bluesy guitar? Check. Politically motivated lyrics? Check. Dylan’s love-it or hate-it nasal vocal stylings? Oh yeah, you better believe that’s here, too. This time around, Dylan actually sounds like he’s singing less out of his nose and more out of the phlegm in the back of his throat. In many cases some of the great lyrics are wasted, simply because Dylan seems to slur the words together incoherently. Such is a consequence of age, I suppose, but the sound is still uniquely Dylan– which is all that matters.
There are some terrifically written songs on this album, as well as a few snoozers. The album opens with “Thunder on the Mountain,” a groovin’ road-trippin’ tune that would make the late, great Hunter S. Thompson proud. “Workingman’s Blues #2” echoes much of John Lennon’s solo work, and “When the Deal Goes Down” mirrors those old time country ballads your father may have force-fed you as a child. As for the not so good, “Spirit on the Water” sounds like a song I heard in a Motel 6 elevator. But that’s about as harsh as my criticism is going to get for the most part.
Overall it’s definitely worth a listen. It’s no “Blonde on Blonde,” but it’s definitely not just some half-hearted attempt to cash in on the nostalgia of the sixties that so many of us edumakated college students lust for. The album suffers from minor issues such as the repetitive nature of the songs; some are stretched thinner than Nicole Richie’s waistline, as many of the songs clock in at more than six minutes in length. But it’s still distinctly Dylan, and in these “Modern Times,” that’s all a neo-classic-rocker like myself can ask for.