Modern Times, Bob Dylan’s 31st record, has been a critical and commercial success. Feted by reviewers worldwide and well-received by consumers (the album debuted at pole position on the Billboard Album Charts), Modern Times may be viewed as the third part of Dylan’s resurgent trilogy of albums which also includes 1997’s Time Out of Mind and 2001’s Love and Theft.
Comparisons to Dylan’s classic mid-60s hat-trick of Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde abound but to do so, in my estimation, is unfair, considering the world and Dylan have changed so much in the intervening forty years.
At 65, Dylan has seen and done it all, musically, and definitely the last three albums are more reflective especially about his own mortality and on Modern Times, the music is less visceral and less melancholic with one eye firmly focused on God.
“Some sweet day I'll stand beside my king/I wouldn't betray your love or any other thing,” he declares (and vows) on the rock and roll ditty that is “Thunder on the Mountain.” He recalls the opening verses of Genesis on “Spirit on the Water.”
Dylan expounds on the Christian life on the resplendent “Nettie Moore” where Dylan asserts that “Today I'll stand in faith and raise/The voice of praise/The sun is strong, I'm standing in the light/I wish to God that it were night” and the heartfelt “Ain’t Talkin’” where Dylan states “They say prayer has the power to heal/So pray for me, mother/In the human heart an evil spirit can dwell/I am a-tryin' to love my neighbor and do good unto others.”
Interspersed with these religious overtones, Dylan touches on his favourite subjects – evil women, evil authorities and the evil world in general. Whether the personas described in these ten tracks express Dylan’s intimate thoughts can only be the subject of speculation and argument amongst Dylanologists. Suffice to say that this is a pleasing album that Dylan fans will enjoy. Nothing particularly ground-breaking (no one expects that surely) but it is comforting to know that Dylan still has sufficient inspiration in his heart, mind and soul to deliver a work that intrigues, provokes and yes, reveals. A