Style: Various blues-based roots genres.
Cautions: "Thunder on the Mountain," "Rollin' and Tumblin'" (bluesman vulgarity).
Worldview: "They say prayer has the power to heal, / so pray for me, mother. / In the human heart an evil spirit can dwell. / I am trying to love my neighbor and do good unto others, / but oh, mother, things ain't going well" ("Ain't Talkin'").
Overall quality: The richest of Dylan's very strong last three albums.
Style: Hard rock: industrially metallic at its hardest, sentimentally melodic at its softest.
Cautions: "Photograph" (casual cursing), "Animals" (lasciviousness); not, however, "Rockstar," which is sarcastic, not didactic.
Worldview: "No, we're never gonna quit [fooling around in the backseat]. / Ain't nothing wrong with it. / Just acting like we're animals."
Overall quality: A good deal less profane on disc than in concert, where Chad Kroeger freely peppers his between-song patter with f-bombs.
Style: Hard rock with some melodic sentimentality for variety.
Cautions: "Room 21," "How Long" (profanity), "Get Stoned"; the lingerie model on the cover.
Worldview: "Let's go home and get stoned. / We could end up makin' love instead of misery / . . . 'cause the sex is so much better when you're mad at me."
Overall quality: A grungier version of what big-hair bands were doing in the '80s-small-hair bands, anyone?
Style: Overblown sensitivity on parade.
Cautions: "You're Beautiful," "Wisemen" (profanity).
Worldview: "How I wish I could choose between Heaven and Hell. / How I wish I could save my soul. / I'm so cold from fear."
Overall quality: Despite the aptly named Mr. Blunt's allusions to Dorian Gray in "Tears and Rain," his failure to grasp the importance of not being over-earnest is his only Oscar Wilde connection.
Style: Melodic, hard-edged pop en Español.
Cautions: The discreetly posed nude model in the lyric booklet.
Worldview: Album title in translation: To Love Is to Fight; song titles in translation: "It Sends a Signal," "Shared Lips," "I Have Many Wings," "Blessed Your Light," "You Saved Me," "Combatant," "The King Shark," "We Are Sea and Sand."
Overall quality: Catchy enough, often enough, to make the monolingual wish they could sing along.
Bob Dylan recently told Rolling Stone that on 1997's Time Out of Mind he was "fighting [his] way out of the corner," while on 2001's Love and Theft he was "out of the corner" and on Modern Times (Columbia) he's "way gone from the corner." It's no surprise then that Modern Times feels like his most natural-sounding and unfettered album since Blonde on Blonde, its rich terrain crisscrossed with footprints from every highway, byway, and blazed trail of his musical odyssey.
The album's fermentation of old-time blues, country, folk, rock 'n' roll, and gospel is intoxicating, while the lyrics, both borrowed and original, tap a stream of romantic and religious consciousness that gradually becomes a torrent. What makes or breaks a Dylan album, though, is the singing, and while Dylan's voice is always good for afflicting the comfortable, this time its battered, creaky tenderness-matching as it does his battered, creaky ruminations-might comfort the afflicted as well.