Even with his walking folk icon status, Bob Dylan remains begrudgingly human. His musing music remains poetic, but his raspy voice holds more candor. As always, he’s hopelessly romantic, but there’s more tender, wrenching sadness to gleam. In Triplicate, his extended new album, Dylan isn’t simply a pop culture legend continuing his meditations of a bewildering, torn apart world; he’s a somber, mournful old man who likely reckons his days are nearly due, and he wishes to impart a few plaintive lullabies to a broken time that might — as far as he can tell — not notice his last croons. It’s a collection that’s almost deceptively sweet, admit all the heartbreak and gloom, but it’s an ode to the weary and subdued, the loving admit the blues, who still can bloom.
With the artist’s first three-disc album, Triplicate finds Dylan channeling Frank Sinatra, as well as South Pacific, through his own bleeding heart twang and (very) strained wails. It reflects on broken promises, regretful decisions, lost sympathy and constant agony, but with such carefully selected covers, Dylan attempts to paint an expansive story that’s built on delicate longing and wistful contemplation. These singles, under Dylan’s supervision, are made into pain-ridden recountings of a hurt man who — lost admit all the noise — hopes to steer his ship straight before it’s completely lost at sea, either to be drowned by old age or complete irrelevance. Whichever might come first.
Through the rocky winds of melancholy and grief, Dylan commands his vessel to shore. He is weathered and worn, which make his cries all the more anguished, but Dylan is forthright and never less than bittersweet. He is older, wiser. A more measured man. But through it all, Dylan maintains his signature patient, pensive sense of personality. With the benevolence the musician dutifully brings to the music he picked and chose, Dylan channels a jazzy ’30s-esque mix of tunes that’s similar-yet-alien to what we’ve heard in Dylan’s voice before. He can’t quite hit all of Sinatra’s grace notes, nor does he often try. But even when imitating one of the most influential, legendary artists ever, Dylan finds a way to stay humble, wholehearted and true to his self throughout it all.
It’s very solemn, very grave in its thematic content, yet there’s an undeniable swing. The opening “I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plans,” for instance, echoes the jams inside jazz clubs once ago, hearkening back to a safer, more comfortable time and place. At least, as far as Dylan himself might be concerned. It’s a very disconsolate cover album, and it’s hard to argue otherwise, but it also grooves in moderation. It hums with nostalgia. The kind that doesn’t feel regressive, but rather informative to Dylan’s reflective mind. It blows us through the contemplative heartbreak that leads us into his final few years.
With Dylan’s self-reflective sentimentalism on full display here, which is made very apparent with the inclusion of the on-the-nose choice, “Sentimental Journey,” one cannot wonder how listless an album can be while still holding emotional power. With each passing tune, we find ourselves listening to the same kind of covers again and again, until it’s apparent that Dylan is simply repeating himself — not unlike life. It’s not bad, but the second and third discs not nearly as emotionally absorbing. In fact, the decision to make a 90-minute cover album is, no matter the artist, kinda indulgent. Wouldn’t you agree? How much can you say in four or five songs that you can’t remind listeners in 20 or 30? If Dylan had more restraint, or weeded through his songs, to form an album that doesn’t delve into the same themes without repetition, you better admire Dylan’s open ambitions. As a result, as Dylan gets more existential and meditative with ending tracks like “Stardust,” “It’s Funny to Everyone But Me” and “Why Was I Born?,” you’re not as taken by it because you’re worn out by everything that just came before.
But Triplicate comes with a purpose. That’s not something you usually say about cover albums. Dylan’s remorseful, doleful 38th studio album may or may not be the man’s last hurrah, but it plays like a peace-seeking resolution to years of anguish and mistrust. Even when it’s a little listless, you feel Dylan counting his blessings, hoping for the best. It’s not nearly as witty, nor as cutting or political, as Dylan’s better, more refined work, but it’s a lovely, lyrical not-so-little collection, one that finds bliss in tangled humanity.