Bob Dylan’s Triumphant Fourth Act Continues with “Tempest”.

First came the troubled and wondrously angry young man of the 1960s. Then there was the older and wiser and all too wounded solitary figure of the 70s. Then, even more remarkably, he re-emerged for a third incarnation with Oh Mercy in 89 and then with Time Out Of Mind.

And if that weren’t enough, he burst forth for a fourth time, back on to the scene and into relevance in the 00s with an explosion of activity.

Four albums (so far) with Love and Theft (01), Modern Times (06), Together Through Life (09) and now Tempest. The extraordinarily candid Chronicles Volume One (04).  Scorsese’s documentary. And of course the peerless Theme Time Radio Hours (see here for earlier review).

If you want to understand where his latest album Tempest is coming from, and how he arrived at it, you need to go back to Chronicles and its fourth chapter on “Oh Mercy”.

It had never occurred to me that, by the 1980s, Dylan might have been every bit as disappointed with what he’d been doing with himself for the previous fifteen years or so as his legion of fans were. Nobody, it transpires, was quite as disillusioned with the path that he’d chosen to go down than he himself was.

“There was a missing person inside of myself and I needed to find him.”

He says at the beginning of the chapter and we don’t so much as follow him as he recalls where he was then. Rather we’re there with him, in real time, as he burrows deep inside in the hope of discovering the source of his turmoil.

” I felt done for, an empty burned-out wreck…  I’m a ’60s troubadour, a folk-rock relic, a wordsmith from bygone days… in the bottomless pit of cultural oblivion. I was what they called over the hill.”

Until all of a sudden, out of absolutely nowhere, he stumbles into a jazz joint and has one of those near-mythical, Joycean epiphanies. And to his astonishment, where he needs to be going, musically, and what he needs to do to get there are gloriously and crystal clear. And he begins the journey out of his self-sculpted Stygian gloom and back into the light.

“I had a gut feeling that I had created a new genre, a style that didn’t exist as of yet and one that would be entirely my own.”

It would take him years to get there, that much was clear.

“I wished I was at least twenty years younger, wished that I had just dropped on the scene all over again.”

But for the first time in years, he was palpably excited.

“I was anticipating the spring, looking forward to stepping out on the stage where I’d be entirely at once author, actor, prompter, stage manager, audience and critic combined. That would be different.”

In retrospect, the next couple of albums, Oh Mercy and Time Out Of Mind were not so much the result of that new approach as they were stations on the way.

It was only with the current batch that that destination had truly been arrived at. And Tempest is the latest, and therefore the best example of where that was.

There’s a fascinating interview he gives with Mikal Gilmore in the September issue of Rolling Stone. You can get a taster of what’s in it here.

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