psychedelic mutations of the blues. Talk about bringing it all back home: Dylan veers into country, ragtime, vaudeville, deep blues, cocktail-lounge corn, the minstrel show and the kind of rockabilly he must have bashed out with his high school band more than forty years ago. At sixty, Dylan's subject matter is much the same as it has been for the last ten years - the world has gone wrong, the women are doing him wrong - but his tone has shifted. The arrival of the apocalypse, the breaking of his heart - on Love and Theft
, these become not lamentations but cosmic jokes.
The music evokes an America of masquerade and striptease, a world of seedy old-time gin palaces, fast cash, poison whiskey, guilty strangers trying not to make eye contact, pickpockets slapping out-of-towners on the back. Love and Theft comes on as a musical autobiography that also sounds like a casual, almost accidental history of the country. Relaxed, magisterial, utterly confident in every musical idiom he touches, Dylan sings all twelve songs in a voice that sounds older than he is, a grizzled con man croaking biblical blues and Tin Pan Alley valentines out of the side of his mouth while keeping one eye on the exit. Just as 1997's Time Out of Mind drew on the doomy menace of Highway 61 Revisited, and "Things Have Changed" turned "The Times They Are A-Changin' " upside down, Love and Theft goes back to the quizzical American passions of classic Dylan albums like John Wesley Harding, The Basement Tapes and Blood on the Tracks. He's rummaging around the past, but all he finds there are deeper riddles, more unsettling mysteries.
Love and Theft climaxes a remarkable decade of work from Dylan - the decade when he hit the road for his Never-Ending Tour and finally ditched the halfhearted attempts at slickness that muffled most of his Eighties studio records. Sometime in the Nineties, Dylan finally blew out his voice - and this was a good thing. Because after those last few creaky floorboards gave way, the man came up with a whole new songwriting style for the voice he was left with, the sinister rusted-muffler growl he introduced on Time Out of Mind. Time Out of Mind shocked the world because it didn't even echo past glories - it was something totally new, yet another other side of Bob Dylan.
You won't find the digital swamp-groove of Time Out o