The Politics of ‘Rough and Rowdy Ways’

Bob Dylan’s new album, which dropped unexpectedly like a pandemic consolation gift, is a major, lively, and beautiful release.

Bob Dylan’s new album, wrapped in mystery and dropping unexpectedly like a consolation gift amidst the pandemic (or ‘in the dark, in the wee small hours’, to borrow a line from one of its songs), is a major, lively, and beautiful release. It also marks another shift in musical style and creative direction, just when it looked like Dylan had settled into covering standards from the Great American Songbook.

Lyrically Rough and Rowdy Ways has been described as impressionistic—like layering colourful brush strokes of thought to build tone and emotion, more than to lay down coherent and focused narratives in standard verse/chorus structures.

The lyrics are fragmentary, and together with sparse, mellow arrangements they build a mystical, dreamlike atmosphere. If David Lynch makes more Twin Peaks, this music would fit right in at the Bang Bang Bar. Ambigious lyrics are often accompanied by suggestive deliveries, prodding the listener to tune in and prod beneath their surface.

I want to bring someone to life - someone I’ve never seen
You know what I mean - you know exactly what I mean