Published May 20, 2016Oh, Dylan. Whether he's going electric, going country, recording a Christmas album or an album of Sinatra standards, it's been made plain: Dylan does what he fancies doing, what he darn well pleases, and doesn't give a damn what anyone but Dylan thinks. Fallen Angels is a continuation of Dylan's foray into being an aged lounge singer, but it doesn't sound half as bad as that description may suggest.
Dylan is backed by some rather relaxing instrumentation here, making Fallen Angels soporific and smooth. Though it can feel a tad draining after a while — every song exists in a similarly woozy, waltzy lounge atmosphere, save for "That Old Black Music," which brings up the tempo a tad but remains a soft take on that normally excitable number — it's also an interesting way of going about songs that have always been backed by a big, booming band. On Fallen Angels, they still come across as songs of yearning and learning in love, but are far softer and more humble about it all.
There can be no comparing Dylan's vocal skills to that of Sinatra's — he certainly makes no attempt to be anything like Ol' Blue Eyes here — or any of the other past greats, but there's something to be said about Dylan's raspy, at times strained, I've-been-doing-this-for-decades delivery. Dylan's rasp is powerful and poignant when he sings "With all your faults, I love you still" in "It Had To Be You," and on this project, a love letter to a time when songs were hopelessly and unabashedly romantic, Dylan thusly manages to make them his own. Even the title, Fallen Angels, suggests that this is Dylan's homage to the great, heart-on-sleeve songwriters that existed before him and don't quite exist today.
That said, when Dylan breathes loudly through his nose during a few tracks ("Maybe You'll Be There," "All The Way" and distinctly during the opening of closer "Come Rain or Come Shine"), it's quite distracting, and takes away from some of the beauty of the performance — not to mention the times he lets out a little chuckle between lines. Is that intentional? Is Dylan being a little tongue-in-cheek in keeping something like that on record, something that could be edited out so easily, just to prove that he's aware that he's imperfect? Who knows. Only Dylan knows.
Hearing Dylan sing "crazy as a loon" in "Skylark" may remind you of how he delivered that same line in "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream" off Bringing it all Back Home, though certainly, the context has changed. Calmer, cooler and more collected on this and last year's Shadows, Dylan is tapping into the same romance that he brought to the table with Nashville Skyline, but this time around, he adds history and context.
Fallen Angels is nice and all, but he's not moving mountains with this one. There's no knowing what Dylan will do next, but surely it'll be another surprise move — unless he's keen to continue playing the relaxed romantic he's become. (Columbia)