Bob Dylan's Modern Times, a new Masterpiece?

Upon my initial listening I feel it is safe to declare this new offering from Bob Dylan a masterpiece. Very comforting to know America's true folk treasure is still on top of his game.
I've heard the album now about nine times and I wouldn't be prepared to go that far to be honest.

There are three arguably four "classic" songs on this album,it is a very good and reasonably consistant record with a few minor moments and maybe one pointless track.
The production and overall feel are strongly related to Love And Theft from 2001 but at this stage Modern Times lacks for me a distinctive tone or cohesion that brings it all together to be more than the sum of its parts.
If I were to pinpoint one failing despite very well crafted songs they do lack a little on the arrangement front.

It's a fine record that delivers a honest picture of where Dylan is at musically just now and highlights his powers despite the weathering that the years have brought.

I can't say it's a masterpiece but then you shouldn't be able to say that just yet.

Ooops you just did but I'm glad you did that rather than post about your speaker cable.
dylan can 'phone it in' and still be superior to most....'modern times' like the stones' latest is really good, but no desert island disc.
Masterpiece? I don't think so but it is a very, very good album and the 180g vinyl is wonderful. My favorite album of 2006, so far.

I don't know man, there's a few songs on here that give me that Blood on the Tracks rush. The vocals are strong and clean and the acoustic guitars are sharp and defined. The lyrics are timely. I believe in this stage of his game we couldn't have asked for a more satisfying album. In the same vein as the latest Stones effort A Bigger Bang. Great stuff.
First and second impressions of Modern Times ... it reminded me stylistically of a cross between Dylan's "Self Portrait" and the Band's "Moondog Matinee." Still need to do another 6 or so listens, but if my impressions are spot on ... Modern Times will be a good, enjoyable record. It will not be a classic like "Blood on the Tracks". It will be a good recording like "New Morning."

Regards, Rich
I am about where you guys are....I have listened to ''Modern Times'' about 8 times and my first impression is that is a continuation from ''Love and Theft'' which was allright. Do I listen to ''Love and Theft '' when I'm in the Dylan mood....No. Would I pick up ''Blood on the Tracks'', ''Highway 61''and something more recent like, ''Time out of Mind '' ...Yes. In my opinion ( which always starts a war ) ''Time Out of Mind ''....was his last real good album / disc. A very dark album / disc but the majority of those songs could stand the test of time because they were so personal and well written and as Ben Campbell stated there is some arrangement to those songs. ( hats off to Daniel Lanois ) I bought the ''Limited Edition'' version of ''Modern Times''and got the DVD of the four songs which I'm getting a real kick out of. None the less....we should be thankful that he is still putting out music that is DEFINITELY different from the rest of the stuff that's out there that no one will be even listening to next year !!!!!!
I can understand why the "harder and more atmospheric" sounds on TOOM would appeal more than the "quirky and lightweight" sounds on L&T.

Interestingly enough I find the production on TOOM really distracting and actually rather false and gimmicky.
It does work well in places and there are some classic songs on it.
I also find Dylan's voice is all over the place in terms of production and performance-his phrasing I find interferes even with the better songs as if he wasn't really feeling confident on the album.
Lanois production for me is actually something of a disaster especially when I consider Oh Mercy to be something of a masterpiece.
I do concede that the arrangements are more interesting overall if sometimes messy but when it works it works well.
Ultimately I see TOOM as overrated.

Love And Theft(2001) for me production wise is warmer and much more natural sounding.
Dylan sounds more confident despite the further limitations that age has bestowed upon his voice.
For me it's a far stronger record overall but I realise I'm in the minority with that opinion and that the lighter musical moments may be a hurdle for a lot of listeners.
For my money Dylan did something completely different on this record-it's a fantastic array of funny,fun, thoughtful and subtly powerful songs.

Modern Times features a very similar production to it's predecessor.
It hasn't (so far) for me got the factor X that lit up L&T for me but it could merely be the fact that musically Dylan uses very similar templates and sources.
Lyrically the album is quite different and arguably closer to TOOM in that respect.

It's always good to talk about Bob-thanks.
I think that this is Dylan's most interesting record in ages. I'm not sure it's a masterpiece (it's surely no Blood On The Tracks) but I find it more interesting than anything he's done in the last couple of decades. Weirdly, there seems to be a swinging, jazzy feel to much of this recording - almost a Louis Armstrong feel - that imparts a joyous feeling to what is, essentially, a blues record. Overall, I believe that this record is much more interesting than almost anything else in the lineup of recent pop/rock/country/blues releases.
It seems our definition of masterpiece as it applies to Dylan's catalogs follows no set path. Ben considers Oh Mercy to be "masterpiece" material and Rich sees New Morning as just a "good recording". While I enjoyed Time out of Mind It did not strike me as a user friendly album the way Modern Times does. As for Blood on the Tracks. We all agree it's a classic but not every track is up to the same standards as Tangled up in Blue or Idiot Wind. By the way, I rate New Morning as one of Dylan's best and most personal albums. But thats just me.
Martykl-Love And Theft has very similar music to Modern Times on it.

Dreadhead- I said OM was something of a masterpiece-it was certainly his best album for a long time and it was a reference to Lanois fantastic production job on it.

His Masterpieces per se for me are....
BS V1-3

Just behind those are a series of really good records including Desire ,L&T, Oh Mercy and a few others.

New Morning I think is a fine record but not up with his best.

Love & Theft is certainly barking up the same tree as Modern Times, but for me, it doesn't work remotely as well as the new record does. OTOH, I might need to go back and give it one more listen as it's been a while.

Ben, you don't think John Wesley Harding is a masterpiece?
I really don't think it's fair to include any live albums in a list of Masterpieces. Though I do enjoy all of the Bootleg series of live shows plus Buddakan and Hard Rain etc, they do not have the mindset or the thought process that goes into a new studio album. That's not to say a live album can not qualify as a Masterpiece, Live at the Fillmore, Allman Bros and Live at Leeds, the Who come to mind. But we are discussing Dylan here and each new studio album gives us a wealth of unexplored landscape to survey. I think Another Side of Bob Dylan, Blonde on Blonde, John Wesley Harding, New Morning, Blood on the Tracks qualify.
I, personally, would certainly include JWH among his masterpieces. A qualified masterpiece, though, because the last track, "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" sounds SO out of place on this album. It's a good song, but it always sounded to me like it didn't belong there, especially as the album closer.

"New Morning" - A very good album.

In my opinion, "Planet Waves" approaches masterpiece territory but this opinion is shared by almost nobody. I'm not sure why I like it so much.


P.S. I haven't heard "Modern Times" yet. Hopefully soon...
And on a diffrent level, Desire, Street Legal and Slow Train Coming are all Masterpieces.
Drubin-to be fair JWH and a few of Dylan's early albums should be in the 2nd tier of Dylan's work I posted that list in a hurry-it's a crucially important album arguably one whose legacy is much more important today than it was at the time.
It's not in my list of Dylan favourites but I wouldn't disagree strongly with any argument to have it in there as a "masterpiece"'s far superior to New Morning imho.

Dredhead the BS vols 1-3 is a definitive album and is constructed almost totally of studio work(there's maybe 3 live versions out of 50 or so tracks)-this collection released in '91 put Dylan's work in a completely new perspective-it showed the power of unreleased songs from '61 to '88 and really delivered a treasure chest of gems.
I'd argue to hell froze over that record put Dylan in a new light and is a masterpiece of a collection.
Last Thoughts On Woody Guthrie,Blind Willie McTell and Series Of Dreams amongst countless others surely prove that.
As for live albums I've been careful about including any but '66 is up there with the greatest live albums ever released-it is a masterpiece imho and is in my list on merit.
The mindset and thought process was different to the studio for sure but it was pure Dylan in essence-challenging, thought provoking and a cultural changer.
Dylan rewrote his own history and Rock's on that tour-this record delivers the evidence.
It is better imho than any of those live albums you listindeed there is a very strong argument none of those records would exist without it.
Ben, I totally agree with your statements regarding Bootleg Vol.1-3. I feel New Morning from it's title track on is an utter Masterpiece. The simplicty in the piano playing and arrangments is such a personal statement. Even the cover photo which I believe is a self portrait is fantastic. Go back and revisit this gem, Listen to the lyrics and feel the peace of mind Dylan chose to share with us.
Was "Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3" ever released on vinyl?

Tfkaudio yes it was I bought it on vinyl at the time.
Should be pretty easy to pick up-it's 5 albums worth.

Dreadhead I am really quite familar with New Morning but I will get it another spin sometime soon.
Some research leads me to believe that BS 1-3 was only released on vinyl in the UK. You are in the UK, correct? It appears to be quite collectable. A sealed copy sold for $250 on music-stack recently.
If you come across one, let me know.



Modern Times hit number one in its first week. Bob's first in twenty years. I'm happy to see that people are still interested in what he has to offer.

Tfk-yup I am indeed in the UK.

I didn't realise it was a UK only release.
$250 I suppose is expensive but surely decent 2nd hand copies are about?
Actually it's thiry years. Last time was 1976 with "Desire".
Anybody else think that the #1 chart position has more to do with the i-pod ad than the music? Don't get me wrong, I think the record is Dylan's best in ages, but I have a (sinking) feeling that this may be a secondary factor in its commercial success.
I'm a huge Dylan fan, and I like to see that people still consider his new work worth listening to, but I can't see how you can call "Modern Times", anything more than a three star disc. And that is probably being overly generous.

It sounds ok, but it is almost entirely recycled from classic blues and folk tunes and from his own material. He has done this picking things here and there all through his career of course, but he used to make things his own, now he is just copying them. That being said, he is 65, and that is a hard lived 65, lots of concerts and lots of partying have left him with limited vocal ability and apparently not much to say.

So what, accept he is past his prime and revel in all the great music he has made. Even if most of it was made before 1979 or is that 1969?

I feel vindacated. This album has debuted in one of the top 3 positions all over the world. Five stars from Rolling Stone magazine, their highest rating. Calling it one of his three masterpieces. Mark my words, this will win the Grammy for album of the year. The songs are rich in texture and melody and the production, his own by the way, is crisp and clean. Martykl, what a silly obsevation from someone who thinks this is Dylan's best in ages. The music speaks for itself. Word of mouth has driven this record to the number one spot on the charts. A position it rightly deserves.
I've listened to it about 10 times so far which IMO is far too little for any final evaluation. However, at this moment I feel Highway 61, Blonde on Blonde, and Blood on the Tracks are better.
Everybody has their opinion on Dylan's best as evidenced in the two current threads, but Modern Times for me at this point is not his best. It has, however, received more hype than any of his releases I can remember.
Media is so overblown if your not in it you have no chance, so good for BD. American consumers especially are like blocks of clay waiting for media-land to mold an opinion or thought. Ever watch football on ESPN, you can't get a feel for the game because of the high tech media circus, it's almost like watching a video game.

Looks like I'm burned out on TV!
There's little doubt since TOOM Dylan has came back into vogue critically.
Several things happened Dylan got ill gave everybody a fright he was on his way out and there was a sea shift in musical taste. Country,Blues and roots music (call it folk if you like) has been much more in vogue in the decade that followed, people picked up on Johnny Cash, alt-country et al and re-evaluated the worth of that type of music-in general terms(different generations converged musically)Also last years Scorcese documentary really captured peoples attention and reminded just how powerful Dylan was.
Finally with that in the background Dylan has marketed this album very well with his teaser sessions and masses of very positive reviews.

Obviously I'm a massive Dylan fan but there is an element of "this is the moment" for Bob again.

I can't say it's a masterpiece but it is widely seen as the latest proof that Dylan remains relevant and enjoyable today and I can't disagree with that.
For my money Love And Theft deserved the praise and attention more however that did get released on 9/11 so...........

Easy there, fella.

I hope that I made it clear in my post: I like MT a lot (a WHOLE lot), but it still strikes me as a very odd #1 record. Ben's observations notwithstanding, MT replaced something called "Danity Kane" as #1. MT (deservedly IMHO) has gotten a ton of good press, but I seem to recall TOOM and L&T getting similarly rave reviews - without the sales numbers (I believe they peaked at #5 and #10, respectively). One obvious difference is the Apple tie-in in the marketing campaign. Don't overlook the impact.

Or maybe the record buying public has just suddenly woken up to Bob Dylan again. Either way, I'm certainly happy for the man and for the potential benefits to other personal songwriters who may benefit from MT's commercial success.
Marty, fair enough. I'm sure the Ipod spot didn't hurt the sales any, that's for sure. But the Ipod belongs to a different generation. I don't own one. I'm 50 years old and don't want to jam a million songs into a tiny little box. Never owned a Walkman either. Matt's absolutely correct. This album sound's like Dylan is rehashing his own material. Almost every song sounds like it came from another one of his own past albums. That's what I like about it. The man reinvented rock and roll years ago. Once is enough for any artist. There was a time not long ago when Dylan was nothing more then a parody of his former self. I think with this album, like the Stone's "A Bigger Bang" these aging rocker's have found a place they are comfortable with and so is the buying public.
"Modern Times hit number one in its first week."

So did albums by Eminem and Fifty Cent. Justin and Brittney sell lotsa records too. Mass appeal is almost a reverse indicator of quality in America where Budweiser is the king of beers. I saw Bob Dylan perform live at Radio City for David Letterman's 10th anniversary show. This was over 10 years ago maybe 15. He couldn't sing at all and was almost unintelligible. I have heard his later albums and his denigrated vocals no longer work for me. When I listen to music the vocals are the one thing I can't get past. Springsteen has written some great songs but I hate his voice and can't listen. I'm sure Bob still writes some gems. I'll wait for someone who can sing to cover them before I buy them. It's all personal taste and early Dylan captures a time in music and America that I was lucky enough to live through and am still able to revisit through those early records. The same goes for the current output of The Stones, The Who, Clapton. The most maddening thing is groups who replace lead singers while retaining their original name. the Doors with that Ian whathisface from the cult? Freddie-less Queen with Paul Rogers? And worst of all "The Dead" who dropped the Grateful out of re$pect for Jerry. Do all the commercials you want guys. You earned the rights to that money. A graceful and timely exit is all I'm asking for.
One could also be dismissive of so-called Audiophile music-who's going to listen to that in 50 years?
And what about all that crap about cables-sheesh.
And what about manufacturers that keep the badge and produce inferior products and claim the new model is better?
Instantly forgetable criticisms that have a grain of truth in them...for me at least

Joking aside I really do think actually singing quality is a real hang up for many Audiophiles and indeed that is why they go so often for such perfect female vocalists and cover versions and all that soft jazz and perfectly recorded pap...ouch I'm falling down that hole again.

Dylan isn't for everybody but to be honest Jsonic you ain't adding much to the debate which is about his new album.
Dreadhead I couldn't disagree more about Modern Times in terms of what it sounds like.

He's using the same templates but the music is closest to Love And Theft with tiny sprinklings of the Blues related stuff of TOOM done in a less "powerful" fashion.
There is no real strong connection to how Dylan used to sound pre-97 anywhere on this record.

Imho the real masterpiece of recent years is Love And Theft and until Modern Times resonates for me with the originality,depth and wit that album does then we need to debate this on a daily basis.
I can think of worse things to do.
Ben Campbell:
You are partially right. I am adding nothing to this debate regarding Modern Times. Your allegiance and hero worship of Bob Dylan is well-founded but blinds your objectivity. I have never bought a Patricia Barber, Diana Krall or Jacintha record and don't intend to. I am a classic rock listening MOJO- reading purist. I am simply stating that when an artist's voice goes , I can't listen to his/her music any longer. If Dylan came out with Blood on the Tracks today and Blonde on Blonde next year I couldn't listen to them. Look , for you it's Dylan for me it was the Grateful Dead. Jerry Garcia's voice started to go around '76 and although I went to shows from the late 70's to early 80's I knew the best years were in the past. Ben IMHO opinion you skirted the issue. I love early Dylan stuff . I'm not feeling what he's done for the last few albums due to the change in his voice. Dismissing my point by saying "Dylan isn't for everyone". is way offbase.
Jsonic-no worries my friend I wasn't particularly dealing in specifics regards your statement just comparing generalisations.
I've always found a fair bit of common ground with your posts.

I stand by my comment about Dylan's voice and Audiophiles;many of them hate it, full stop.
At least you can relate to the earlier years.

I couldn't disagree more about myself and Dylan as I would be heralding MT as a masterpiece and I certainly wouldn't be so critical of TOOM if I had lost my objectivity regarding him.
Indeed read my first post again.

"It's a fine record that delivers a honest picture of where Dylan is at musically just now and highlights his powers despite the weathering that the years have brought."

The weathering description relates to his voice which is clearly limited now,in the early 90's Dylan was struggling terribly with it.He did however imho find a way to cope with it-there was a massive change in his live performances around '95.
He remained strong for several years but he has had his dips and to be honest this is a battle against decline; it will never be as it was.

I think he does a pretty decent job in that context.I really can understand that the rasping tone and strange phrasing would have people putting off the disc within seconds.
I think Dylan is still massively relevant but it's a shame his voice won't allow you to hear that.

However this is my key point having clarified that background.
There are lots of music threads on Audiogon regarding artists I don't care for at all and unless I think have some kind of context and insight into it then I just ignore them.
If people were discussing the new Diane Krall album where is the value in me turning up and saying it is boring pap?
I'm not even in the zone to discuss it.

I think your reaction is an honest one but your whole post outwith of Dylan seemed a bit of a moan to me.
And really we can't have that on a Dylan thread.

Best wishes Jsonic,honestly.

People that complain about the sound of Dylan's, Springsteen's, etc voice and pronounce it unlistenable just don't get it. When I want to listen to tonal perfection I put on an opera. When I want to listen to two of this country's most prolific song writers I put on the fore mentioned. I can recommend Mel Tormae, the velvet fog. Now that's a beautiful voice. Just not for me. I guess you guys didn't like Janis Joplin either. A little to gruff for you. I am a fan. That being said, I always look forward to the next offering from the artist I admire. I find the latest from Springsteen not to my liking, not because of the sound of his voice but because it is not his voice. It is his interpretation of other artist's compositions. If he wanted to make an anti-war statement he should have written one himself. The SOUND of Dylan's voice fits the music perfectly. I wouldn't have it any other way.
Rock music is replete with lead singers that have limited range and/or "pleasing" voices. Dreadhead mentioned Janis Joplin. I couldn't agree more. Others include, Mick Jagger, Grace Slick (who by her own admission has only a fair voice), Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart, Phil Collins (yuk), Sheryl Crow (double yuk), Voices like Roy Orbison and Freddy Mercury are the exception, not the rule.
What most of our popular singers offer is style. Jagger is a terrific stylist but a marginal singer. So as Dread pointed out, if you're listening for vocal purity, buy Mel Torme or Nat King Cole recordings.
IMO of course.
You guys just don't get it. My vocal tastes are my own. I loved joplin, Jagger and Slick and never liked Springsteen. You guys act like our sensibilities have to match up. Mel Torme has no bearing on whether or not I like Old Bob Dylan's voice or the deteriorating Garcia's. Voices are subjective. What my dislikes are have no connection to the soft-ass artists I supposedly should be listening to if I don't go with the general consensus. Chaq'un a son gout!
I also love Slick, Jagger, and most of the artists mentioned. I hope I get what you mean and think I do. However, my post was not meant to defend Mel Torme, Bruce Springsteen, Sheryl Crow (well I guess that's indefensible), Bob Dylan or anybody else for that matter, only to point out the differences in styles that exist among them AND their technical abilities which truly differ.
Have fun.

The point I'm making is that no matter how good a lyric is and I acknowledge plenty of artists whose voices I can't stand have written great songs, I can't listen to their music. The flip side of the coin is I can't listen to a beautiful voice sing music I'm not into. So audiophile darlings like Jacintha, Nora, Diana, Mel Torme and tony Bennett don't do it for me either. A voice like any other body part deteriorates with age . I'm not gonna take up much more space here in deference to Ben Campbell who is correct in saying this thread is about Modern Times.
caught springsteen as a youngin' playin' on the same bill as sha na na. he is no 'bowser'......
I can't help but wonder. Somewhere Leon Redbone is thinking,...."wait a minute, I did that shit 35 years ago".

I agree with you. That "Modern Times" works the same area as Leon Redbone's career. If I remember correctly Bob said at one time that if he ever started a record label he would sign, Redbone as his first artist. Bob did found a label and I don't think he ever followed through with that promise.

I like Redbone's music a great deal, but it is lacking in originality. And I think Bob has slipped into that camp as well. At least they are both finding inspiration in great music. But if you really like the sounds on Modern Times, you should explore the artists where this music comes from.

Against my better judgement and probably my wife's if she knew about it. I have shucked out a couple hundred dollars to see yet another Dylan concert in an acoustically challenged hockey rink. Maybe I'll like Modern Times better, when I hear it live. That being said, he has played this type of music in part at several shows i've already seen, so i think i know that answer already.

looking for a cure from bob-itis

Has anyone bought the vinyl of the Modern times and does it sound compressed(going by Shadorn's comment above)as the CD?
I own the record and it sounds great. It's a double album with 2 to 3 songs per side. Great mix with nice center imaging. 180 gram pressing with an old school Columbia label. This album is a masterpiece.
I don't think it sounds compressed. I'm quite impressed with the sound and pressing quality.

I'm not comfortable with the term "Masterpiece". Absolutes are used so often they have lossed their meaning.
I love the album.

I also really like the album having heard it a couple dozen times now but prefer both Time Out of Mind and Love and Theft. It is not a masterpiece. It is not a great album.