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This report is taken from PN Review 254, Volume 46 Number 6, July - August 2020.

Nobel Laureate Adds to His Canon M.C. Caseley
One of the peculiar distinctions of the pandemic lockdown is that a whole raft of singers, writers and other entertainers have realised they have a huge captive online audience for anything they choose to put out there. What they choose to put out there ranges from amateurish karaoke-style home transmissions to, in the case of musicians,  releasing new material. If you are Bob Dylan, (Nobel Prize for Literature 2016), you elect to release your first new, self-written material for eight years, in the shape of two songs, ‘Murder Most Foul’ and ‘I Contain Multitudes’.

This rather bald summary doesn’t really do justice to the significance read into this act. The rarity value of this gesture (allied to a terse, encouraging Facebook message, supposedly from Dylan to his fans) meant that it quickly became a national news story. It also inevitably galvanised Dylan followers into deciding that it was (a) entirely out of character or (b) appropriately Dylanesque, or both. The merits of both pieces were soon being hotly debated, helped (and hindered) by the rather  kaleidoscopic nature of their lyrics. For many, this led to the most obviously Dylanesque structural feature of the first piece released, ‘Murder Most Foul’: it is 17 minutes long. Plainly this was not a bid for a catchy, chart-topping earworm – although others have found these in Dylan’s output, most recently in the form of Adele’s ubiquitous, sweetened cover of his grumbly 1997 song ‘Make You Feel My Love’. My own, somewhat heretical feelings are that a long Dylan song does not necessarily ...


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