Bob Dylan - Triplicate

by Oliver Rose

You’ve got to be careful you don’t read too much into this kind of thing.

When I Could Have Told You came out a few months ago, I over-analysed it, didn’t I. ‘Yes,’ I thought, ‘Bob’s really bringing his own, tortured age into the equation here.’ It helped that I read a Guardian article comparing this slew of Sinatra covers to the 1962 album, Bob Dylan. It suggested that both records are essentially exercises in the cover version, and successful ones at that. But like I say, you’ve got to be careful you don’t read too much into this kind of thing… and I think drawing that kind of comparison is exactly what’s wrong with the way we’re all listening.

Since 2013 then, Bob Dylan’s been hacking away at the American songbook. Sometimes it works, and sometimes (more often than not, in fact) it doesn’t. Occasionally, an ‘emperor’s new clothes’ reading works out (as above), but to be honest, it’s all pretty poor. First Shadows in the Night, then Fallen Angels, now this. It’s just more and more of the same – more Bob covers and more of the songs themselves, which are very samey. The performances range from uninteresting to eyebrow-raising to plain awful. Uniting every rendition however is the feeling that someone else did it better – it’s not even always the original. Take These Foolish Things. There’s any number of versions you’d listen to before Bob’s – Bryan Ferry’s is a pretty unique arrangement, for example.

Listening to Triplicate through, I find my patience waning quickly. Dylan himself is becoming a more difficult character to condone. The farcical behaviour surrounding his Nobel Prize win was shameful, and the liberties he takes in a live capacity are appalling. You wonder if he sings Simple Twist of Fate like that now because he’s old – then you hear him murdering Stardust, and you realise he’s just being difficult.

I’d also like to remind you of the record company behind Dylan – Sony. I’ve made no secret of distaste for Sony’s gluttonous, money-grabbing bullshit in the past, and I certainly won’t here either. I went into HMV at the weekend, where a couple of triple-vinyl copies of Triplicate sat on the featured shelf. I wondered to myself, ‘who thought it would work, cramming three, thick 180g plastic discs in a thin, shiny card sleeve, so that it bulges and creases, essentially pleading with you not to be bought when the more expensive, deluxe hardback book casing sits right beside it?’ ‘Never mind,’ the prospective shopper concludes; ‘I’ll stream it instead.’ Good luck to you. Naturally, the record’s been trimmed into a ‘samples’ set for Spotify… so that you have to go out and pay for it… even though the music is all coming up for ‘public domain’ age… and is needlessly spread across three discs when it could easily fit on one or two… making the cheapest physical solution £15 (CD) or £13.69 if you’re prepared to pay for a compressed digital copy. Perhaps I’m being cynical… but I really do hate Sony. With that in mind, this is actually a review of the ‘sampler’ you saw it fit to lump me with. Apologies if I missed a golden deep-cut. Perhaps forward any complaints to Rob Stringer CEO in writing.

I should, at this juncture, pass comment on the actual music here. It’s uneventful, if skillfully executed. Very boring though. Almost detached from Dylan himself. Either I don’t get it or I’m an idiot. Either way, I’m bored stiff. That is all.

Triplicate is not very good… and you already knew that – you just came to see what I’d say about it. The answer is much the same as last time. I’m not asking for a lot. I don’t want Blood on the Tracks – Part 2 or anything. The past is in the past, and that’s firmly where it belongs. With that in mind, can’t Bob just write something new already? Because if copycatting his heyday isn’t right, then neither is covering music that’s even older… not that there’s anything wrong with that in principle. It’s just that we’re now five discs deep into a very stale gimmick, and frankly (pun very much intended) I’ve had enough.