The Complete Album Collection, Volume 1
Rolling Stone: 500 Greatest Albums of All Time: 2012 edition (number: 204)
Those not totally au fait with the arc of Mr Zimmerman's recent career may be a little non-plussed by Modern Times. For starters there's that title. What exactly is modern about 10 songs whose lineage resides in pre-rock 'n' roll, country blues and swingtime jazz? The key, naturally, is irony. Dylans creative renaissance (beginning with 1997's bleak, Time Out Of Mind and continued with the jauntier, rockabilly inflected, Love And Theft, has seen him delve deeper and deeper into his roots until he's indivisible from his influences. Backed with verve by his current touring band and beautifully self-produced (under the pseudonym Jack Frost); Modern Times is the exception that proves Bob's recent assertion that most modern music is poorly-recorded pap. It's a warm and utterly engaging album.
Filled with wittily self-depreciative asides ('my mind tied up in knots, I keep recycling the same old thoughts'), heartfelt love poems and (most surprising of all) harsh political critique (couched as ever in Biblical terminology) on the grand finale, ''Ain't Talkin' -Dylan's 44th album is more than we could have expected from this 65-year old enigma. The worrying musings on mortality have given way to a frankly peppy acceptance of his place in the world. He even name-checks Alicia Keys!
It's as though Dylan's worried, worked and rubbed away at these genres, smoothing his muse to the same archetypal condition of the originals he loves so much by Woody Guthrie, Big Joe Turner and Merle Haggard. He's sacrificed artifice (and fashionability) for the real deal. It really doesn't matter that his sound is almost inseparable from the original templates (''Rollin' And Tumblin''' doesn't even get a name change while ''Beyond The Horizon'' is basically ''Red Sails In the Sunset'' with new lyrics); Dylan's now lived and experienced enough of this stuff to really inhabit such genuine Americana. As he says on the opening track, ''Thunder On The Mountain'': 'Gonna sleep over there. That's where the music's coming from. I don't need any guide, I already know the way.' An album of the year, in any century...