Many have theorized on the concept of genius. As Malcolm Gladwell wrote in “Late Bloomers“, which appeared in The New Yorker in 2008: “genius, in the popular conception, is inextricably tied up with precocity”. However, the article goes on to cite a study by University of Chicago economist, David Galenson, which argues that their are two distinct paths to genius. Supported by a survey of poems that appear most frequently in forty-seven major anthologies, Galenson concludes that “experimental innovators work by trial and error, and arrive at their major contributions gradually, late in life.”. While, “conceptual innovators make sudden breakthroughs, usually at an early age”. How then does one explain Bob Dylan?
50 years since the release of his self-titled debut, Dylan’s new record, Tempest, finds him shifting seamlessly between structures and thematic genres. The album begins with “Duquesne Whistle”, an old-fashioned train song, and closes with a sentimental tribute to John Lennon called “Roll On, John”. Along the way, Dylan addresses disparate topics such as romance and murder.
At just under 14 minutes, the title track is the album’s centerpiece. “Tempest” recalls earlier epics such “Joey” and “Desolation Row”. The songs are similar in magnitude, but more importantly they share a sense of impending doom. Of course in the case of “Tempest”, there is little doubt as to where the song is heading as it recounts the sinking of the Titanic.
On “Soon After Midnight” Dylan sings “I’m searching for phrases to sing your praises”. Presumably, directed at a love interest, the lyric also does well to summarize the task of writing this review. With 35 studio albums to his credit, Dylan most be both a conceptual and experimental innovator. Better yet, with Tempest, Dylan proves once again that his genius cannot be defined, labeled, or explained.
Tempest was released on September 11th. Watch the video for “Duquesne Whistle” below.