Fallen Angels is one of Dylan's most consistent and predictable albums yet.
If there’s been one consistency in Bob Dylan’s long and multifaceted career, it’s his ability to surprise and often irk his fans. This was certainly the case with 2015’s Shadows In The Night, a collection of songs from The Great American Songbook that had been made most famous by Frank Sinatra. Its warm critical reception was equally shocking, but Dylan has always been an imitator, so perhaps fans shouldn’t have been taken aback. Released just three days after the golden anniversary of his infamous “Judas” gig at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall, Fallen Angels is one of his most consistent and predictable albums yet.
Dylan’s current output cannot be compared to his jagged, rip-roaring sound of half a century ago. He’s a completely different artist. Nonetheless, as with his last album, it is worth noting that this is as smooth as he has sounded in years. Lead single ‘Melancholy Mood’ opens with a long and flawlessly-delivered blues solo that contrasts greatly with Dylan’s throaty vocals once they enter the mix. He once sang, “I’ve got the blood of the land in my voice,” and its deep, textured sound showcases the strain that fifty years as the “voice of a generation” has taken on him. ‘All The Way’ possesses a similar bluesy accompaniment as his five-strong ensemble works wonders in condensing the symphonic backing of Sinatra’s version into Dylan’s four minute rendition, and other highlights include ‘Polka Dots And Moonbeams’ and ‘Skylark.’ The former is afforded another sustained intro where Dylan’s vocals don’t protrude until about halfway through the song, but he brings a sincerity to the words that he sings. In ‘Skylark,’ the highlight of the album, the pleasant imagery of the lyrics are complemented by the upbeat violin that permeates throughout. Perhaps most significantly, the pleasure that Dylan takes in delivering the vocals here is audible. The same can be said of ‘That Old Black Magic.’ If this enjoyment was present throughout the album then it may have shaken off the general frustration of America’s greatest songwriter once again releasing a collection of Sinatra covers.
Fallen Angels is clearly a passion project for Dylan, so the occasional lapses in his vocal conviction are inexcusable. ‘It Had To Be You’ is a case in point, sounding somewhat half-hearted. If even he can’t enjoy it, why should we? Conversely, ‘On A Little Street In Singapore’ seems to demonstrate him trying slightly too hard. The delicate delivery across most of the album dissipates into a raucous whine on this number, which is fortunately the shortest track on the album. During the final song, ‘Come Rain Or Come Shine,’ Dylan’s weary breaths can be heard between verses. It’s a rare nugget of fidelity from one of music’s great liars. Contrary to the opening track’s title, Bob Dylan is not ‘Young At Heart,’ but at 75 and having spent over half of his life on the road, you’d expect to hear a little fatigue.
Fallen Angels will inevitably chart higher than most of his finest albums, illustrating that Dylan is now just a brand name for nostalgia. He’s not the same artist that he was fifty years ago, but he isn’t trying to be. On this, his 37th studio album, he’s earned the right to make whatever music he pleases (not that he ever bowed to others’ expectations). However, the adoration of fans and critics alike is not an entitlement. Fortunately, Fallen Angels is a worthy addition to his deep oeuvre. In spite of a few bumps, it’s a soothing if unspectacular journey into America’s past and Dylan’s present.
Fallen Angels is out now via Columbia Records.