Shakespeare, Angst, and the Blues
Though there is no explicit parallel to the Shakespearean tale, Dylan's lyrics frequently refer to the various themes of injustice, unfairness, corruption, and otherwise deplorable circumstances. Considering its myriad violent imagery and ideas stemming from corrupt circumstances, it's hard to ignore the disc was released on 9/11. Violence aside, though (it never becomes gratuitous, though it flirts with that line), Dylan dabbles in fantasy here, even calling to play some "Early Roman Kings" (purchase/download). His tactic is, for the most part, the blues. But here and there we hear inklings of contemporary folk and pop. There are plenty of synthesized keyboard parts backing Dylan's remarkably adept blues guitar.
And yet, for all the instrumentation, the music itself is kept quite simple, erring largely on the side of less-is-more. Considering his mastery of guitar and his past allegiance to excitingly composed music that is, well, musical (he certainly doesn't have a lot of music innately caged within his vocals), the hypnotic repetition seems a little unimaginative at first. Then again, this is Bob Dylan. It's hard to assume the accompaniment was actually phoned-in. Perhaps the hypnotic redundancy is part of the Shakespearean mystique. Perhaps it's something else altogether, which will reveal itself duly after dozens more listens. Indeed this, like any Dylan album, is worth allowing more time to grow on you.
Dylan, for his part, sounds like a growling, angry man stricken truly by complex desires. That would be one strongly unifying element played throughout this album - an element which adds a certain darkness even to the more upbeat, carefree-sounding tunes like "Duquesne Whistle" (this disc's first radio single, which was accompanied by a rather violent video). The focus on violence in this disc makes sense with the tempest theme and is difficult to ignore. Whether Mr. Zimmerman is making a statement about the central focus of violence in our society, or simply meeting his audience where they are (or a little bit of both?) is hard to tell.
At any rate, the disc stirs up the storm it promises. Fans would be well-advised to pour themselves into it entirely, weathering the gales as long as it takes to extrapolate some beauty. Rest assured the old guy hasn't lost his touch quite yet.