To understand the continued awe with which audiences approach Bob Dylan, put your ear to “Spirit on the Water” from his latest album, Modern Times. The first thing that catches you is the riff – a gorgeous summershine jaunt, a lazy little thing that almost begs for dancing as it floats away on a harmonica. It’s something you don’t really expect, but listen again, this time paying attention to the words: “I’ve been travelin’ through mud/prayin’ to the powers above/I’m sweatin’ blood, you’ve got a face that begs for love.” Together it’s over seven minutes of highly addictive, confusing, and frustrating beauty.
It’s good old Bob, but the context keeps changing, always moving like so many of the characters he paints in his poetry. Modern Times is his third straight masterwork, taking the friskiness of Love and Theft while retaining some of the focused seriousness of Time Out of Mind. It’s an album about current events as much as classic music, with references to Chaplin and Katrina , but more than anything, it sounds unlike anything else out there, creating a new and exciting world for our hero.
Gliding through another decade of music, Dylan is still uniquely and unequivocally Dylan, and for that reason alone this is a work worth all the praise it will receive.