It’s just so easy to despair. Sometimes, it’s more rewarding to think outside the box for a moment. You may just reach the same critical conclusions as before – my objective feelings on Fallen Angels are as they were when I first came to it: sadness, mostly. However, if you give yourself an hour to just chill out and work out your feelings, it can be really quite rewarding.
Now, as I’m sure you know, Bob Dylan is an incredibly famous singer-songwriter; one of the all-time best. In the early ‘60s his nasally, “sand and glue” voice annunciated some of the truest tunes you will ever hear; amongst these impossibly timeless tracks are Blowin’ In The Wind and The Times They Are a-Changin’ (to name but a few). It’s a commonly-made mistake, judging the same man, fifty years later, by his younger self; Bob Dylan’s music has slowly morphed into a mere shadow of its former glory – for the most part, the matchless brilliance of his youth has cost him the capacity for praise in his more recent work. In fact, 1997’s Time Out Of Mind is the only release I can think of since 1975, that caused any kind of stir. The trouble is, it’s not sustainable to reach for the past anymore – you will never be satisfied. Moreover, you’ll remind yourself and everyone else that the past was so much more glorious. It is a truly thankless task.
In light of this, what is Fallen Angels? Well… it’s not all that, really. A follow-up to 2015’s Sinatra covers LP, Shadows In The Night, this, Dylan’s thirty-fifth studio album, represents another stab at American songbook classics. Praise of this album has celebrated Dylan’s love for music; the warm hoarseness of his aged voice; the gentility of his American spirit in such contemporary hostility (musically, socially etc.) These aren’t neccesarily false claims – in fact, if you want to hear an original take on these oft-covered songs, look no further. Despite the traditional instrumentation here, Dylan’s voice does something darkly magical and new to the well-worn tropes riddling these old tracks (the strange, croaky key change in All the Way, for example).
However, this much I would say – aside from the inescapable virtue of his age, Dylan has little to offer here. With no original material in sight, we are exposed to a very deliberately characterless façade – as though you are meant to forget Dylan’s past. At this point, you’re probably seeing an alignment with what I said earlier, about treating new Dylan differently – right? Well, what this system reveals, is that however noble it might seem to facelessly cover American standards, you simply can’t get away with that when you’re Bob Dylan. Because, at the same time as attempting to shed his past skin, Dylan’s only original contribution to this style of music is vocal gravel – his trademark. It makes you realise that you’d actually hear a new, unknown performer trying this kind of thing out.
There’s also a pang of resignation about the whole thing that I find terribly sad. At least on 2012’s Tempest, Dylan was still a fastidious worker – he penned a ten-minute ode to the sinking of the Titanic on its centenary, for goodness’ sake. It didn’t matter that he’d never write another Gates Of Eden, he was still bringing to the table a hugely original slice of Americana. These last two albums are introverted and self-indulgent; this one particularly, as the aesthetic trend is dragged over a second long-player. Least of all are they original, they’re anti-original, and whilst it’s time indeed that we stopped weighing up Dylan’s more recent compositions with his perfect folk-music of years past, that doesn’t necessarily make it the right time for him to give up completely and become something he isn’t.
Swinging back up to my intro, a parting comment on the state of things for Bob Dylan. There’s simply no room in this equation to feel cheated. Dylan’s not done a bad job as such, he’s given you more 5⁄5 albums in his lifetime than you could hope to shake several sticks at. Do I like this record? No. Can I enjoy it in a different context? Not really. I feel like I’ve tried, and that’s okay with me. My parting request is this: try Fallen Angels for yourself. Love it or hate it – but don’t say it’s not as good as The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan…
I know. We all know. Bob does too, I think…