Bob Dylan is on a roll.
After the surprise release last month of the 17-minute song ‘A Murder Most Foul,’ the 78-year-old singer-songwriter has dropped ‘I Contain Multitudes.’ The creeping meditation clocks at a far less imposing 4:38, but Dylan packs odd accents into every measure.
“Today, tomorrow and yesterday too / The floors are dying / Like all things do,” sings Dylan, he phrasing casual, his gravelled delivery just above a whisper, ending the opening verse with a typically inventive turn of phrase: “I fuss with my hair / And I fight blood feuds / I contain multitudes.”
Dylan’s hide-and-seek approach to new music suggests an artist perfectly content doling out single-song releases minus the typical fanfare that comes with an Official New Bob Dylan Album. The last one of those he released — excluding a series of covers albums — was ‘Tempest,’ eight years ago. He’s also been dipping into his vaults.
Details are sparse for now on when and where ‘I Contain Multitudes’ was recorded. The song, a reference to a line from Walt Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass,’ arrived without a press release, notes on instrumentation or musicians.
On ‘Multitudes,’ Dylan sighs into the microphone like an exhausted reaper. “I got a telltale heart like Mr Poe / Got skeletons in the walls of people you know,” he sings to sparse, clean electric guitar accompaniment. “I drink to the truth / And the things we said / I’ll drink to the man who shares your bed.” Elsewhere he rhymes “frolic with all the young dudes” with “I contain multitudes.” He name-checks Anne Frank and couples “Indiana Jones” with “the Rolling Stones.”
‘I Contain Multitudes’ crawls along like a gunshot victim abandoned outside the emergency room. But lyrically, Dylan’s having fun with his lines, and phrases them with a devil-may-care joyfulness. Multitudes indeed.