This week Bob Dylan’s latest album was announced. Triplicate is a collection of three records, scheduled for release at the end of March. For Dylan geeks (like me), the prospect of a triple album from our hero was ludicrously exciting. Three whole albums-worth of Dylan in one fell swoop! Alas, this euphoria didn’t last long. Triplicate is made up exclusively of cover versions gleaned from the ‘great American songbook’, just like Dylan’s two previous records, Shadows in the Night (2015) and Fallen Angels (2016).
Artists re-recording songs by Frank Sinatra and co in order to make a fast buck has become a familiar occurrence. Rod Stewart and Robbie Williams have done their very worst in this regard on numerous occasions. But for Dylan this has been far more than a money-making exercise. Shadows in the Night, in particular, is a very fine album indeed. His now croaky, world-weary voice is a perfect match for these old time songs of love and regret. The arrangements on the two previous albums are impeccable, too, and I’m sure Triplicate will do an equally fine job.
Dylan’s dalliance with the ‘great American songbook’ has given a lift to the Never Ending Tour, too. The 2015 concert I caught at the Royal Albert Hall was spectacular. The cover versions sounded fantastic and seemed to spark Dylan into giving his all to his own material, including the likes of Tangled Up in Blue and She Belongs to Me. Going to see Dylan live, as many will attest, can end in disaster, but he’s currently on a Sinatra-inspired run of good form.
Having said all that, I think it really is time for the great man to drop the Ol’ Blue Eyes routine. Throughout his career, Dylan has recorded and performed cover versions and traditional tunes, but three releases in a row (five studio albums in all) of other people’s songs is just too much to bear.
Dylan’s pre-Shadows in the Night late period is packed with magnificent music. The run of Time Out of Mind, Love and Theft and Modern Times is truly miraculous. Together Through Life and Tempest which followed are both patchier affairs, but are, nonetheless, not without their high points. After a horrific 2016 in which we lost David Bowie and Leonard Cohen, I hope it’s not in bad taste to beg the 75-year-old Dylan to us give some original material ASAP, just in case, well, you know.
Of course, Dylan won’t pay a blind bit of difference to what anyone thinks or says about Triplicate. And, having your patience tested is part of the fun of being a Bob Dylan nut. He has never done what is expected of him and, so soon after being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, the apparent abandonment of his own lyric-writing seems about as ‘Dylan’ as you can get. As ever, he’s doing it his way.