“You think I’m over the hill
You think I’m past my prime
Let me see what you got
We can have a whoppin’ good time”
– Bob Dylan, ‘Spirit on the Water’
At some point in every great artist’s career, the excitement of appreciation turns into the comfort of faith. We worship what is original and authentic in art, yet our very admiration sets the stage for nostalgia. Every legend is its own ghost.
Modern Times is an album of minor rooms haunted by the unforgettable specter of Dylan’s voice. It is his best album in decades – not because it pushes the frontiers of what Dylan is capable of, or because it is a patch on his great albums from the 60s and the 70s, but precisely because it is a return to what is simple and essential about the Dylan experience. Musically unchallenging (but for the staccato beat of ‘Nettie Moore’) and politically old-fashioned (I mean really, who still sings about the proletariat?), Modern Times is an opportunity to sink back into the familiar drizzle of that voice, to relive that long, lonely drive called growing up. Dylan is over the hill, but if time has worn away his edge it has also granted him a slow, almost elegiac maturity. When Dylan sings “We live and we die, we know not why / But I’ll be with you when the deal goes down”, it’s a promise we know he will keep.