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Modern Times

Modern Times

4.1 9
by Bob Dylan

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The length of time that transpires between Bob Dylan releases these days -- it's been five years since Love and Theft, which itself broke a four-year drought -- makes it seem as if the rock legend has come down from the mountaintop with each armful of new songs. This time around, the epic, foreboding material he's crafted backs up that image, with every


The length of time that transpires between Bob Dylan releases these days -- it's been five years since Love and Theft, which itself broke a four-year drought -- makes it seem as if the rock legend has come down from the mountaintop with each armful of new songs. This time around, the epic, foreboding material he's crafted backs up that image, with every incisive phrase and every heavy-hanging note underscoring the spiritual, questing vibe. Modern Times isn't exactly a religious album -- not in the standard sense -- but it does carry a stark, apocalyptic tone that can be terrifying (as on the stealthily picked "Ain't Talkin," with its imagery of life as a skein of unending suffering) or vivifying (as on "Beyond the Horizon," where he sets his sights on the afterlife that follows said anguish). More than he has in ages, Dylan builds his tales around classic blues structures, tweaking the 12-bar form ever so subtly on the steely-eyed revenge paean "Someday Baby" and reworking the Muddy Waters classic "Rollin' and Tumblin' " (which he's retrofitted with new lyrics) into a cautionary tale of impending doom. As befits its title, Modern Times is also shot through with Dylan's take on the world around him. Although he's not nearly as direct here as he was in his protest song days, there's no mistaking the passion -- or position -- of songs like "Workingman's Blues #2" (a class-conscious rallying cry that carries traces of Before the Flood in its DNA) and the New Orleans-directed "The Levee's Gonna Break." Unlike its immediate predecessor, Modern Times isn't a particularly aggressive album. At times, in fact, it verges on the parched. But not depleted: Instead, with this steely-eyed disc, Dylan sounds like a man who intends to fight on -- intent on winning every battle.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Thom Jurek
When Bob Dylan dropped Time Out of Mind in 1997, it was a rollicking rockabilly and blues record, full of sad songs about mortality, disappointment, and dissolution. 2001 brought Love and Theft, which was also steeped in stomping blues and other folk forms. It was funny, celebratory in places and biting in others. Dylan has been busy since then: he did a Victoria's Secret commercial, toured almost nonstop, was in a couple films -- Larry Charles' Masked and Anonymous and Martin Scorsese's documentary No Direction Home -- and published the first of a purported three volumes of his cagey, rambling autobiography, Chronicles. Lately, he's been thinking about Alicia Keys. This last comment comes from the man himself in "Thunder on the Mountain," the opening track on Modern Times, a barn-burning, raucous, and unruly blues tune that finds the old man sounding mighty feisty and gleefully agitated: "I was thinkin' 'bout Alicia Keys/Couldn't keep from cryin'/She was born in Hell's Kitchen and I was livin' down the line/I've been lookin' for her even clear through Tennessee." The drums shuffle with brushes, the piano is pumping like Jerry Lee Lewis, the bass is popping, and a slide guitar that feels like it's calling the late Michael Bloomfield back from 1966 -- à la Highway 61 Revisited -- slips in and out of the ether like a ghost wanting to emerge in the flesh. Dylan's own choppy leads snarl in the break and he's letting his blues fall down like rain: "Gonna raise me an army, some tough sons of bitches/I'll recruit my army from the orphanages/ I've been to St. Herman's church and said my religious vows/I sucked the milk out of a thousand cows/I got the pork chop, she got the pie/She ain't no angel and neither am I...I did all I could/I did it right there and then/I've already confessed I don't need to confess again." Thus begins the third part of Dylan's renaissance trilogy (thus far, y'all). Modern Times is raw; it feels live, immediate, and in places even shambolic. Rhythms slip, time stretches and turns back on itself, and lyrics are rushed to fit into verses that just won't stop coming. Dylan produced the set himself under his Jack Frost moniker. Its songs are humorous and cryptic, tender and snarling. What's he saying? We don't need to concern ourselves with that any more than we had to Willie Dixon talking about backdoor men or Elmore James dusting his broom. Dylan's blues are primitive and impure. Though performed by a crackerjack band, they're played with fury; the singer wrestles down musical history as he spits in the eye of the modern world. But blues isn't the only music here. There are parlor songs such as "Spirit on the Water," where love is as heavenly and earthly a thing as exists in this life. The band swings gently and carefree, with Denny Freeman and Stu Kimball playing slippery -- and sometimes sloppy -- jazz chords as Tony Garnier's bass and George Receli's sputtering snare walk the beat. Another, "When the Deal Goes Down," tempts the listener into thinking that Dylan is aping Bing Crosby in his gravelly, snake-rattle voice. True, he's an unabashed fan of the old arch mean-hearted crooner. But it just ain't Bing, because it's got that true old-time swing. Dylan's singing style in these songs comes from the great blues and jazzman Lonnie Johnson (whose version of the Grosz and Coslow standard "Tomorrow Night" he's been playing for years in his live set). If you need further proof, look to Johnson's last recordings done in the late '50s and early '60s ("I Found a Dream" and "I'll Get Along Somehow"), or go all the way back to the early years for "Secret Emotions," and "In Love Again," cut in 1940. It is in these songs where you will find the heart of Dylan's sweet song ambition and also that unique phrasing that makes him one of the greatest blues singers and interpreters ever. Dylan evokes Muddy Waters in "Rollin' and Tumblin." He swipes the riff, the title, the tune itself, and uses some of the words and adds a whole bunch of his own. Same with his use of Sleepy John Estes in "Someday Baby.". Those who think Dylan merely plagiarizes miss the point. Dylan is a folk musician; he uses American folk forms such as blues, rock, gospel, and R&B as well as lyrics, licks, and/or whatever else he can to get a song across. This tradition of borrowing and retelling goes back to the beginning of song and story. Even the title of Modern Times is a wink-eye reference to a film by Charlie Chaplin. It doesn't make Dylan less; it makes him more, because he contains all of these songs within himself. By his use of them, he adds to their secret histories and labyrinthine legends. Besides, he's been around long enough to do anything he damn well pleases and has been doing so since the beginning. Modern Times expresses emotions and comments upon everything from love ("When the Deal Goes Down," "Beyond the Horizon") to mortality ("The Levee's Gonna Break," "Ain't Talkin") to the state of the world -- check "Workingman's Blues #2," where Dylan sings gently about the "buyin' power of the proletariat's gone down/Money's getting shallow and weak...they say low wages are reality if we want to compete abroad." But in the next breath he's put his "cruel weapons on the shelf" and invites his beloved to sit on his knee. It's a poignant midtempo ballad that walks the line between the topical songs of Cisco Houston and Woody Guthrie to the love songs of Stephen Foster and Leadbelly. One can feel both darkness and light struggling inside the singer for dominance. But in his carnal and spiritual imagery and rakish honesty, he doesn't give in to either side and walks the hardest path -- the "long road down" to his own destiny. This is a storyteller, a pilgrim who's seen it all; he's found it all wanting; he's found some infinitesimal take on the truth that he's holding on to with a vengeance. In the midst of changes that are foreboding, Modern Times is the sound of an ambivalent Psalter coming in from the storm, dirty, bloodied, but laughing at himself -- because he knows nobody will believe him anyway. Dylan digs deep into the pocket of American song past in "Nettie Moore," a 19th century tune from which he borrowed the title, the partial melody, and first line of its chorus. He also uses words by W.C. Handy and Robert Johnson as he extends the meaning of the tome by adding his own metaphorical images and wry observations. However, even as the song is from antiquity, it's full of the rest of Modern Times bemusement. "The Levee's Gonna Break" shakes and shimmies as it warns about the coming catastrophe. Coming as it does on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, it's a particularly poignant number that reveals apocalypse and redemption and rails on the greedy and powerful as it parties in the gutter. There are no sacred cows -- when Dylan evokes Carl Perkins' exhortation to put "your cat clothes on," it's hard not to stomp around maniacally even as you feel his righteousness come through. The great irony is in the final track, "Ain't Talkin'," where a lonesome fiddle, piano, and hand percussion spill out a gypsy ballad that states a yearning, that amounts to an unsatisfied spiritual hunger. The pilgrim wanders, walks, and aspires to do good unto others, though he falters often -- he sometimes even wants to commit homicide. It's all part of the "trawl" of living in the world today. Dylan's simmering growl adds a sense of apprehension, of whistling through the graveyard, with determination to get to he knows not where -- supposedly it's the other side of the world. The guitar interplay with the fiddle comes through loud and clear in the bittersweet tune. It's like how "Beyond the Horizon" uses gypsy melodies and swing to tenderly underscore the seriousness in the words. It sends the album off with a wry sense of foreboding. This pilgrim is sticking to the only thing he knows is solid -- the motion of his feet. Modern Times portrays a new weird America, even stranger than the old one, because it's merely part of a world consumed by insanity. In these ten songs, bawdy joy, restless heartache, a wild sense of humor, and bottomless sadness all coexist and inform one another as a warning and celebration of this precious human life while wondering openly about what comes after. This world view is expressed through musical and lyrical forms that are threatened with extinction: old rickety blues that still pack an electrically charged wallop, porch and parlor tunes, and pop ballads that could easily have come straight from the 1930s via the 1890s, but it also wails and roars the blues. Modern Times is the work of a professional mythmaker, a back-alley magician, and a prophetic creator of mischief. He knows his characters because he's been them all and can turn them all inside out in song: the road-worn holy man who's also a thief; the tender-hearted lover who loves to brawl; the poetic sage who's also a pickpocket; and the Everyman who embodies them all and just wants to get on with it. On Modern Times, all bets are off as to who finishes the race dead last, because that's the most interesting place to be: "Meet me at the bottom, don't lag behind/Bring me my boots and shoes/You can hang back or fight your best on the frontline/Sing a little bit of these workingman blues." There is nothing so intriguing as contradiction and Dylan offers it with knowing laughter and tears, because in his songs he displays that they are both sides of the same coin and he never waffles, because he's on the other side of the looking glass. Modern Times is the work of an untamed artist who, as he grows older, sees mortality as something to accept but not bow down to, the sound that refuses to surrender to corruption of the soul and spirit. It's more than a compelling listen; it's a convincing one.
Entertainment Weekly - Pat Gilbert
Intriguing, immediate, and quietly epic, Modern Times must rank among Dylan's finest albums. (A)

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Modern Times 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
glauver More than 1 year ago
I think this is better than Time Out of Mind and more consistent than Love and Theft. The band is tight and there is a nice, consistent groove to the proceedings, something that neither of the other two albums possessed. None of the songs seem to merit all-time Dylan status, despite all the hoopla at the time. Love and Theft had High Water Everywhere, the best Dylan number in ages. Late period Bob fans should not miss Tell Tale Signs from the Bootleg Series. It might be better than any of the regular releases. 3 1/2 stars
Guest More than 1 year ago
Bob Dylan's Modern Times is a marvelous album. Each tune tells a story that invites you to listen. Dylan has a unique talent of relating particular topics that we all assume are to be passed by in our busy schedules. Dylan wants us to take a load off and just get comfortable, but his message grabs you by the first beat and the first words of each tune.Dylan states that he wasn't pleased after hearing the finished tracks for Modern Times. He doesn't think that there hasn't been any really great music produced in years. Well how can he explain Modern Times being the #1 album in its first week ? What really is astonishing is that there is almost no radio station playing Modern Times. Dylan will always be the one who is never satisfied with what he has accomplished. He is on a quest so it seems. He wants us all along to share in the treasures he uncovers. For a talent such as Bob Dylan to think he could have done better speaks volumes. There aren't many masters who don't believe in their masterpieces. Bob Dylan well done, bravo. Do not ever stop being who you are. Happy trails to you.Thanks for taking us along.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Of the latter day "renaissance trilogy" this one seems better, even, than both Love & Theft and Time Out of Mind. The blues covers rock, the singing is subtle and expressive. Dylan has fun with the lyrics, his sense of humor is refreshing on this cd. The enigmatic trickster may not be writing overtly political lyrics like the (excellent) new Neil Young cd, but this music seems to me satisfying and appropriate listening in these times of doom.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This will be nominated for album of the year! Bob carries on with the rootsy sounds of Love and Theft and Time out of Mind. The track everyone will be talking about is the closing track- "Ain't Talkin"
Guest More than 1 year ago
A great album. Not as all-out great as "Love and Theft," but a wonderful CD nonetheless. Bob's crooning, quasi-Hawaiian songs here are top-notch.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Dylan has always been changing. From the early ruckus going electric at The Folk Festival to different words and tempos during live concerts to even foregoing playing his guitar "for standup electric piano during a Philadelphia concert three years ago", one must be ready for anything. The early charge of energy in the beginning of "Thunder on the Mountain" on this collection, really is a preview to a much more laid back, conversational style which harkens to a simpler era. The band and the sound of this album is much less lush with only bassist Tony Garnier returning from the personnel from the early 90's. No strong resonances on his vocal sound and the absence of the numerous sideman and instruments of, for example, "Time Out of Mind", makes this work stand out. It took me to a place which oddly matches that night cover picture of a NYC taxi. Walking through the Village of old, with clubs and sounds emitting from them that were personal and directed to small groups of attentive fans. If these album sounds were heard in such a bygone time, for sure, one must stop by and groove to the sounds of "Rollin' and Tumblin'", that old standby. Am I the only one to detect that this Dylan album moves us to a simpler time before mortgage and credit meltdowns, obese, computer-obsessed, exercise-phobic children and avaricious adults began eating away our American soul?
Guest More than 1 year ago
Tracks 01 & 03 ((super)).The rest of the album ,though mostly slower stuff has a flow to it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This album has some interesting music, and one good lyric (Ain't Talkin') other than that it is pure tapioca, and not really worth a second listen. Dylan is saying that he really has nothing to say. I have been a Dylan fan for 35 years.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago