Some of the analyses, which can already be loose, are accompanied by brief pieces that treat the songs as creative writing prompts ... In keeping with the theme of his omniscient zeal for songcraft, Dylan betrays no sense there is anything remotely odd about zigzagging among Jimmy Reed, Rosemary Clooney and Santana, itself a meaningful insight into the wide open apertures of his powers of expression ... Boy, are these essays weird. Longtime Dylan followers are accustomed to the peculiar cast that haunts his songs...and they festoon these pages as well ... These essays are not all terrifying verdicts on the fate of a corrupted humanity. There are history lessons, too! Charmingly, Dylan appears to have done a great deal of research on the material covered, and maybe even breaks a little news here and there.
It is filled with songs and hyperbole and views on love and lust even darker than Blood on the Tracks ... There are 66 songs discussed here ... Only four are by women, which is ridiculous, but he never asked us ... Nothing is proved, but everything is experienced—one really weird and brilliant person’s experience, someone who changed the world many times ... Part of the pleasure of the book, even exceeding the delectable Chronicles: Volume One, is that you feel liberated from Being Bob Dylan. He’s not telling you what you got wrong about him. The prose is so vivid and fecund, it was useless to underline, because I just would have underlined the whole book. Dylan’s pulpy, noir imagination is not always for the squeamish. If your idea of art is affirmation of acceptable values, Bob Dylan doesn’t need you ... The writing here is at turns vivid, hilarious, and will awaken you to songs you thought you knew ... The prose brims everywhere you turn. It is almost disturbing. Bob Dylan got his Nobel and all the other accolades, and now he’s doing my job, and he’s so damn good at it.
There’s little in the way of philosophy in The Philosophy of Modern Song, unless you’re looking for tangential rants about divorce lawyers or how nobody watches black-and-white movies anymore ... And when Dylan says 'modern' he apparently means anything up to, but not including, the Reagan era ... But Dylan is nothing if not a trickster, and it sure seems as though he’s enjoying himself here, riffing — and I do mean riffing — on a short list of his favorite songs ... More confounding, and much more fun, is Dylan’s weakness for schmaltz ... For all its eccentricities, The Philosophy of Modern Song hits upon some welcome grace notes.
The Philosophy of Modern Song is a mouthful, a phrase that puts on airs. It asserts that the book is an important work, a tome that merits a place on your loftiest library shelf, up in the thin air where you keep the leather-bound, gilt-edged stuff ... But the title is also a wisecrack, too puffed up and self-important to be taken at face value ... As a work of prose, The Philosophy of Modern Song is relentless. It rip-snorts along, charging from song to song, idea to idea. Dylan can write what journalists call a great lede: a first sentence that detonates like a hand grenade ... What does all this add up to? Not quite a philosophy of modern song, or at least not a coherent one. But coherence isn’t what you want from Bob Dylan ... You have to plow through 46 chapters before encountering a song by a female artist ... Yet women loom large in his consciousness and are omnipresent in his pages — appearing in such monstrous form, evoked in language so marinated in misogyny, that, reading The Philosophy of Modern Song, I began to feel like a therapist, sneaking glances at my watch while the crackpot on the couch blurts one creepy fantasy after another ... It’s a bummer, to put it mildly, to find a Nobel laureate...mixing metaphors and spouting nonsense like an elderly uncle who bulk-emails links to Fox News segments.
The imposing title is perhaps tongue-in-cheek, for the book doesn’t offer—as Bobcats worth their salt might have predicted—anything close to what its title promises. What it does offer is perhaps even more valuable: It’s a generous book—as forthright as anything Dylan has ever laid before his audience—that manages to stick its landing somewhere between the perfect bathroom read (short sections, handsomely illustrated, coincidentally just in time for Christmas) and The Anatomy of Melancholy, Robert Burton’s epic, eccentric and encyclopedic compendium of 1621 ... The lyrical 'riffs are most Dylanesque, particularly because of the second-person narration, intended to cast a noirish shadow, with the occasional consequence of making the reader feel like the addressee of Like a Rolling Stone. The purely lyrical paraphrases are only intermittently successful. Though Dylan knows that 'people ask songwriters what a song means, not realizing if they had more words to explain it they would’ve used them in the song,' here he is quite happy to use more words, to sometimes comic effect ... represents a window into Dylan’s thoughts about how songs and lyrics operate, how they might be received. So though Dylan’s interpretation might not be why Detroit City works, it is why this book works—it doesn’t matter if he’s right or wrong ... demonstrates a level of scrutiny that Dylan might find slightly ludicrous leveled at his own work ... Despite his front-and-center opinions, autobiography is almost entirely absent: He doesn’t mention, for example, those three songs he recorded, nor his connections to any of the various performers or writers here, some of which dot-joining may have made the book feel a little more organic. Many of the choices predate his career, and very few of the tracks that postdate the ’60s seem directly influenced by his work. It’s as if he has written himself out, not only personally, but from musical history: Perhaps that is his private fantasy ... Over and over in his admiration of others, he tells us about himself ... a late-life gift from the greatest living songwriter. These 66 songs may make a great Spotify playlist, but in the end the philosophy is not theirs but Dylan’s, and this book tangible evidence of the creative inspiration they provide him on a daily basis.
... devious ... These riffs, which he flicks like tarot cards through a distant cactus, sound a lot like his own song lyrics, so much so that part of me wanted this to be a new record instead, wanted to hear these lines come croaking up from Dylan’s 81-year-old lungs and past his buckshot, barb-wired uvula ... Who else sounds like this? Dylan slits open the underbelly of American life; he pokes at the entrails; he draws a lot out of these songs. It’s total warfare against the humdrum, and it’s completely great, except for when it isn’t. The tone becomes repetitive. In a lot of the cases, you could switch Dylan’s commentaries around, apply them to different songs and not know the difference. By the end he seems spent; he’s phoning some of the language in ... You keep reading because it’s Dylan, because there’s always an eerie little gas station, an Indian casino, an itinerant preacher or a syphilitic old madam around the next corner. You want to know what condition Dylan’s condition is in. Probably he’s about to release a bladderful of P.B.R. on somebody’s grave ... God, this book is sly ... Dylan is helplessly epigrammatic ... The humor in The Philosophy of Modern Song trips over, often enough, into full-on gaslighting ... It’s been art-directed to its back teeth. The photo researcher deserves all the best legal drugs for Christmas. It’s filled with vintage movie stills and Life magazine covers and car ads and pulpy detective images, some more clever than others, the kinds of things you might find on the walls of a self-consciously retro diner ... I respect the work that went into it, but the photos sometimes crowded me out ... This book is about a genius recognizing unfiltered genius in others, when he can find it. Often enough it’s an argument for simplicity.
... a nimble, Surrealist compendium .. . Dylan has always had a vaguely tense relationship with the writers and journalists who frantically parse his songs for meaning, and, while reading The Philosophy of Modern Song, there were moments when I grew slightly red-faced, worried that the book might be an elaborate gag, poking fun at all the drooling critics who have gone berserk trying to illustrate the heft and beauty of his work. (Who among us has not mixed a metaphor once or twice?) ... Dylan’s descriptions are tone poems, intricate evocations of a certain mood or sensation. He is extremely interested in the devastations that connect us ... Dylan’s book is deeply personal, despite its sweeping title. To be fair, taste should be idiosyncratic and kind of awkward ... It’s obvious that Dylan did not tweak his preferences to suit a cultural narrative...Yet that the book contains only four songs performed by women—let that sink in!—is both grim and astounding. This might lead readers to question Dylan’s character and, more worrying, to wonder about the limits of his musical knowledge.
Promised to offer Dylan's insights into the nature of popular music. Actually, the breezy book is more like a late-night, old-school, once-hipster DJ riffing on dozens of songs you may or may not know ... A 338-page, photo-heavy hodgepodge that is part criticism, part social commentary, part pulp fiction, part comedy, part rebaked Wikipedia, and, indeed, part philosophy ... It's informative, sometimes fascinating, occasionally insightful, generally entertaining and, of course, totally Dylanesque ... Dylan's short essays sometimes read like pulpy two-page movie treatments inspired by the lyrics. But that kind of imaginer is probably not what readers expect from this book ... The Hall of Famer riffing in prose is often as appealing — and enigmatic — as his riffing in music ... Occasionally Dylan gets distractingly off-key ... Randomly arranged, freewheeling ... Not likely to lead to any distinguished literature awards.
Part humor, part history and part hogwash – a little like love letters to analog life and rebukes on the world gone wrong with a twist ... Dylan’s 'philosophy' is at once curious, mercurial, inconsistent and, at times, off-putting ... The Philosophy of Modern Song is patently a product of Dylan’s wiles and times ... Far more concerning than any possible slights or absences is an excess of off-color commentaries on women ... It seems reasonable to hope that an artist of Dylan’s magnitude would publish words in solidarity with half of humankind in this critical hour of rights rescinded; rather, he chooses demeaning stereotypes.
The nature, the mechanics, and the meaning of creativity, especially as it pertains to music, matter a lot to him, as he makes abundantly clear with his new book, The Philosophy of Modern Song. A collection of short essays, lyrical riffs, chunks of facts, and unpredictable digressions, generously illustrated with historical photos suitable for enjoyment at the coffee table ... It’s a work of authorship, obviously, and at the same time a critique of, and a bit of a prank on, the idea of authorship too ... Dylan begins some chapters with a looping, free-form narrative, spinning an imaginative tale connected in some way to the idea or theme of the song ... These sections are certainly the most overtly literary parts of The Philosophy of Modern Song, and the literature they conjure is the racy pulp of bus-depot book racks in mid-century America ... From the selection of songs and singers, one could conclude that Dylan has little interest in women as creative artists ... When he does discuss women, Dylan often depicts them as dark temptresses and shrews ... Dylan’s refusal to acknowledge the depth of women’s contributions to American song is indefensible ... We see, too, that Dylan thinks very little of hip-hop—or, more likely, that he doesn’t think about it at all ... We can only take what pleasure there is in it and marvel at the author’s unfading ability to test the meaning of authorship and make the work his own.
As we’ve learned, things are never simple with Dylan, and The Philosophy of Modern Song can be as much of a surprise and puzzlement as his previous books. It’s part music-appreciation class, part podcast-style rant, and as unpredictable, cranky and largely engrossing as the man himself ... He spins evocative, sometimes weird, tone poems about the leading characters in the songs ... Dylan’s on to something about the allure and magic of music ... There's a method in the seeming madness here ... The book ends up an homage to a time when vernacular forms like folk, country and blues were the rock-solid foundations of music, rather than the beats, production tricks and techniques, and soundscapes of the last few decades.
Dylan is sweeping out the ashes from the cave of a long career. He is casting a light on the Jungian shadows of popular song, examining both mechanics and metaphysics. Entertaining and profound, Dylan’s philosophy runs along the lines of Pascal’s Pensées, or the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius—personal ruminations on how to live with oneself, and the universe. Dylan finds profundities where others find ditties, but he always has ... Dylan’s humor—always one of his most beguiling qualities, and in short supply in later years—is everywhere evident, and it makes this book the romp that it is. I lost track of the number of times I laughed out loud. Some of the chapters offer practical insights into singing, phrasing, songwriting and recording studio practices. Other chapters take the song as a jumping-off point for stand-alone meditations on art, money, war, religion, etc. ... Dylan’s picture editing provides a compelling and offbeat visual narrative of the history of modern song, always reminding us that this is an art forged in the smithy of commerce. By refusing to include captions the illustrations speak for themselves all the more powerfully. Dylan’s droll humor even extends to the illustrations ... This book probably brings you closer to being inside Dylan’s mind than anything else he’s ever done. In many ways it is more autobiographical than his memoirs Chronicles, and certainly a much happier book. There are no scores to settle, no traumatic encounters with fame, no reason to obfuscate or lie. Discussing Hank Williams or Chuck Berry obviously brings out the best in him. The book is full of unexpected assessments.
The Philosophy of Modern Song is going to be rife with hot takes ... He is as much of a historian, and more-than-decent rock critic, as he fancies himself — this is absolutely one of the best books about popular music ever written. But the book’s best passages...come when he puts himself inside the minds of the songs’ protagonists ... Some readers will find cause for disappointment or disdain in what Dylan doesn’t include in the book: many songs by female writers or performers ... These things could indeed be counted drawbacks if Dylan were a journalist, one who’d be beholden to representation, rather than a subjective student of pop, blues, country, soul and rock who believes not every age is a golden one ... So many chapters, so many odd, wonderful choices.
An entire tome of wild, erratic writing about music that is sure to bedazzle and befuddle ... Why did Dylan decide to write it? Who knows ... As a listener, I don’t care that the real-life Dylan is probably kind of a dick. As a reader, it is harder to overlook ... I’d still advise Dylan fans and the Bob-curious to jump on this bumpy ride. This is Dylan in crate-digging mode, curating material that he’s repurposed and rung his changes on over the decades ... At the least, the book makes for a hell of a mixtape ... Dylan frequently goes off on old-man rants about the supposed shallowness of culture today compared with the good old days of his youth. Over and over, he repulsively characterizes women as vixens, bloodsuckers, or just plain shrews ... Judicious cuts would have made this handsome coffee-table consumer item feel less substantial—it’s also full of period photos and pictures that, uncaptioned, act less as illustrations than historical montage-style allusions. But the verbal padding makes it boring to read straight through; I’d recommend skimming and dipping over an extended time.
The title of this book is a lie ... There’s no 'philosophy' offered here ... There’s not even an explanation of why Bob Dylan selected these particular 66 records as subjects for essays which encompass criticism, history, and fantastic leaps of reasoning ... The most hilarious moments come when Dylan gets caught up in his own resplendent language and just can’t stop ... The book is a laugh riot, complete with some killer vaudeville-style zingers ... And the secret weapon is the illustrations, packed with old movie posters, vintage ads, and in-jokes that sometimes require a few looks ... Maybe it’s better consumed in small chunks—episodes—rather than all at once ... One way to consider Bob Dylan’s career is as a life-long project exploring American music of all kinds ... The Philosophy of Modern Song brings it (almost) all under one roof, with observations, details, and asides to be chewed on, sudden blazing insights to be found, again and again.
Sometimes dizzying, sometimes confounding, but rarely less than absorbing ... Largely an impassioned valentine ... He makes fascinating comparisons ... Attentive readers will also savor Dylan’s withering comments, which pop up periodically in different chapters, on the state of contemporary culture and the world itself ... Dylan’s essays about singers, songwriters, instrumentalists and their respective skills demonstrate the insights of both a scholar of music and an ardent fan. He balances his encyclopedic knowledge with infectious enthusiasm. He writes with a winning combination of wit and sensitivity, wisdom and humor, articulating an equal appreciation for tradition and breaking the rules ... Dylan’s thoughts are intriguing and his writing is as vivid as you would expect ... Women, in general, do not fare too well in his book.
Dylan writes...in bursts of seemingly dashed-off prose that are optimistically labelled 'essays' by the dust-jacket blurb. There is no explanation why he has chosen these particular songs, nor what their shared philosophy might be ... The choice of songs is connoisseurial: I relished listening to them while reading the book ... His tone is variously jokey, hep, hard-boiled, folksy, grumpy and perceptive. Absurd truisms are invented ... That life was better in the old days is a repeatedly strummed chord ... His nostalgia is bolstered by scores of wittily chosen archive photos, which stylishly pad out the abbreviated passages of text ... He has an incisive ability to get inside a song and make its workings understandable to those of us who have not, like him, composed more than 600 of them ... There is a pronounced streak of ungenerosity in the book, and even cruelty ... Only four female singers are included among the 66 acts ... The sexism is overblown to the point of comic absurdity ... A joke crawls out from the metaphorical wreckage; Dylan is having fun playing the curmudgeon. But the humour carries a sour tang. ... The book’s unabashedly masculine slant shows scorn for what Dylan holds to be the milquetoast sensitivities of the modern age ... Amid the entertaining sallies and insightful remarks is a mounting sense of meanness and pettiness.
It’s unlikely, but it’s wonderful ... Much of it reads like his DJ patter. Some of it could even be simple transcription ... Dylan, unsurprisingly, enjoys being a contrarian ... He also wants you to dig, wants you to work to get the most from the book ... This would all seem like flat one-upmanship if Dylan weren’t such an engaging and lively host, prone to grumble occasionally, but more likely to make you laugh out loud. He’d had enough of being a symbol, the voice of the people, long ago – now he’s entirely comfortable and can have a lot of fun with it.
This is the work of a legend wanting to confuse people, to upturn the idea of relatable legacy completely ... Colourful ... Many of these [ruminations] would get most music magazine editors scrambling for the red pen. They rarely add anything new to the conversation, but they’re often campy fun ... Dylan’s writing is at its best when it’s funny ... But if we’re relying on Dylan to consistently offer clarity on these songs, we’re out of luck. Some of his entries feel dashed off or too short, even if they’re meant to leave us wanting more ... The biggest disappointment is the way Dylan’s book is utterly drenched in testosterone ... These are dark shadows in a book that holds light, amusing treasures, although not as many as the press puff would like you to believe.
Genuinely extraordinary ... Sometimes, in passing, Dylan offers concise, almost-straight pen-portraits of the singers and writers in question, sketching out touching tributes ... Mostly, though, his essays are strange, hypnotic sermons ... Often the chapters are split into two sections, with the consideration of the song prefaced by a riff that looks to get inside the feel of it, like warm-up exercises for a method actor building a character, or an attitude of performance. Some of these are just hilarious ... Many more become intense, obsessive little narratives, delivered in a voice that suggests a defrocked hellfire preacher caught in a doomed noir parable ... Serious, playful, insightful, outrageous, disturbing, hilarious and sly, foul-mouthed and angelic, steeped in blood and lusty thoughts, it’s less musicology than a gnostic gospel with a literary tap-dancing routine thrown in. It’s a church built in a funfair, filled with trapdoors. It’ll set your hair on fire.
When the most revered singer-songwriter of all time delivers a hefty tome about the art of song, you sit up and take notice. Yet surely no one will be surprised to learn that Bob Dylan’s mischievously titled The Philosophy of Modern Song barely pretends to offer a coherent treatise on the state of contemporary songcraft. Rather, its lavishly and wittily illustrated 340 pages are an excuse for the great man to write with joyful zest, piercing profundity and flamboyant imagination about whatever crosses his mind ... Cleverly curated pictures offer amusing, surprising and occasionally baffling counterpoints to his sometimes luridly agitated prose ... There is not much strictly musicological analysis, and only occasional (if always intriguing) dissections of lyrical form ... For Dylan, songs are metaphysics and alchemy. This book is lightning in a bottle.
Deeply subjective essays on songs Dylan holds dear, from standards and groundbreakers to obscurities and oddities ... Often, the juxtapositions are extreme ... It’s that kind of book: discursive, unpredictable, but always illuminating. Characteristically Dylan, in fact ... Most of the time, this iconoclastic approach makes for heady and exhilarating stuff, though his reading of Hank Williams’s classic country ballad 'Your Cheatin’ Heart' strikes me as wilfully perverse ... Elsewhere, the insights are more acute, often surprisingly so.
Anyone looking for a glimmer of why Dylan’s verbal dexterity has always held—and continues to hold—so many of his admirers in thrall would do well to peruse The Philosophy of Modern Song ... Substantial yet wild ... But the book is at its very best when it takes off into more poetic flights of fancy ... This being Dylan, the book is also frequently digressive, funny and perverse.
... it seems to have been drawn like teeth from the head of its author, its title does not lack ambition. Philosophy is a big word; maybe one of the biggest. Heigh-ho, alas and also lackaday: Dylan turns out to be to philosophy what Kant was to the blues harmonica. Still, a collection of essays on individual songs from the finest songwriter of the postwar era is surely something to get excited about ... Typically, Dylan will treat the song lyric as a dramatic monologue into which he will project little backstories and character sketches. Some of these are clever and insightful. Some are mere bloated paraphrase ... The effect is like letting Brief Encounter run to three hours so we can see what Trevor Howard ended up having for his dinner. Others seem gratuitously lurid ... The best entries give their song a terrific little cultural and social history with Dylan most himself — funny, geeky, informative and the right side of ADHD ... The lyrics are, sensibly, Dylan’s primary focus. He is also casually brilliant on music history, the lives of other musicians, the origin stories of the songs and the nuances of the songs’ performance. Elsewhere, the book is bulked out with listicles, rants and tenuously related 'musings'. Interesting things Dylan knows about shoes. A cheerfully incomplete list of pop songs based on classical melodies. A reflection on the cinematic misrepresentation of lemmings. Some pieces seem the product of careful revision; others suggest the recent discovery of the speech-to-text button on Dylan’s iPhone ... It’s all so confusing ... the ultra-fans will have to mix a lot more denial into their confirmation bias ... Among several other things Dylan needed to hear but did not is that the way he talks about women here is not and never was acceptable ... The book is also full of auto-memes, where choice bits of Dylan’s deathless are slapped over full-page images, but their attempts to reflect the whimsical nature of his philosophical method can lead to a terrifying loss of perspective ... Personally, I am done with crediting narrowly if uniquely talented men with Leonardo-esque versatility. This nonsense is killing us all. Dylan’s googling chops and Discovery Channel subscription do not make him a polymath; his serviceable but rudimentary piano skills need not be described in the kind of critical language we reserve for Keith Jarrett; and Chronicles being far better than expected does not oblige us to cry Proust every time he finds a pencil ... Take any random page by Cavanagh (who died in 2018, broke, and by his own hand) and you’ll find more care, style, grace, research and insight than you will in 60 per cent of this lazy, half-written dog’s dinner ... despite the tone of this review, I’m one of them. For true believers, maybe.
Bob Dylan’s impressive new book does a lot of things well, but if you’re looking for a coherent philosophy of modern songwriting, well, that may be hard to find in these pages. But it hardly matters because this eclectic book from the master of modern songwriting is engaging, insightful, and often funny ... It’s a generous and handsome book filled with short musings from Dylan but also handpicked photographs of artists, record stores, and who-knows-what ... The book is a joy to read. You can dip in anywhere and swim about in Dylan’s brain ... If Dylan has a philosophy of modern song, it’s obscured by his storytelling and lightning quick brain. But then again, he’s doesn’t need to say a lot—he’s been giving us a master class in modern song for the better part of 60 years.
Being Bob Dylan, he could certainly call Elvis Costello and hear everything the formerly young punk has to say about that 1978 rave-up. He didn't. Instead, he's here to tell you what the song makes him feel ... The list of people who I'd trust to keep me engaged with essays like that about songs like Roy Orbison's Blue Bayou is very short. Hanif Abdurraqib, Andrea Swensson, Bob Dylan ... there are more, but not very many more ... The book does include some well-known singalongs; Dylan is not out to show you how cool he is ... The book isn't meant to be a best-of list, just a series of essays about songs Dylan finds interesting to write about. Still, it's moving that he chose to reflect on a song performed by his fellow Northlander, Judy Garland ... The book also isn't a personal history. This is about other artists and other songs, but those who are interested in Dylan's own music will certainly find food for thought, both in the song selection and in the way Dylan prizes atmosphere over substance in appraising the music ... reveals that Dylan has his eyes turned as much toward the present as the past ... Yes, we now live in a world where Bob Dylan's writing about TikTok. I'm here for it, and for whatever he puts out next. Yes, even if that is yet another album of Sinatra covers. In the spirit of Glenn Gould, I try to keep my expectations at zero.
... idiosyncratic and heavily illustrated but it is likely to be lapped my by most Dylanophiles ... This reader’s main gripe is the slightness of his appraisal of a handful of songs, including Allman Brothers’ Midnight Rider. His thoughts on that song can be read in under a minute and they don’t leave much of an impression ... But when Dylan is sufficiently roused by his subject matter, he writes as only he can ... there are occasional passages where Dylan’s gnarly take seems badly out of kilter in the modern world ... Objectionable maybe, but it’s writing that grabs your attention — and even when he’s on autopilot, as he is here occasionally, you will want to read on.
Widely entertaining romp ... The book is also a plaint against conformity as he praises songs that stand out for their originality, individuality, and inventiveness. Dylan’s prose is often as vivid as his own lyrics ... This quirky book is not only full of surprises but also a wonderful consideration of contemporary songs by the modern era’s master songwriter.
There’s very little of what we could sensibly consider ‘modern song’ in The Philosophy of Modern Song, and any ‘philosophy’ is strictly of the cracker barrel variety. That’s ok, though, because we’ve learned never to take Dylan at face value, and the title was just too pretentious to have been meant seriously. The book’s content, though, is another matter. The puzzle facing the reader as they wade through this text is whether the ‘essays’ within are intended entirely or only partly as a piss-take ... The reality, though, is that it just isn’t very good ... The length of each ‘essay’ varies quite a bit, the quality even more so. Some are quite interesting if only inasmuch as anything Bob Dylan chooses to write for publication is quite interesting. Some of these essays seem to have had some thought put into them; many feel phoned in. The riffs, in particular, are written in prose that comes across as sloppy, undisciplined, and dashed off. Atmospherically, they often read like sub-par noir pastiche. The sort of thing Raymond Chandler might have scribbled down if he’d suffered a concussion during a bad acid trip ... It’s all a bit sophomoric and stale: is there anyone alive who likes early rock ‘n’ roll but needs to be apprised of Little Richard’s erotic proclivities or the song’s overtones of non-vanilla sex? ... don’t make for a great collection. Yes, Dylan has done the expected by doing the unexpected, but I’d rather he wrote about a much more obvious list of artists, and I’d rather listen to them too ... The writing is formulaic, lazy, and repetitive. Particularly when you read many chapters in a row, you can’t help noticing this ... When not being a crusty old curmudgeon, Dylan is still capable of coining a pithy phrase or two, and his sense of humor seems intact ... Yet again, the reader is left wondering why this sort of thing has been published. Yes, it can be published because Dylan sells (these days) and can seemingly do no wrong. But why would anyone want to write this garbage, particularly under their name?
... a kind of music-appreciation course open to auditors and members of the general public. It is best savored one chapter, one song, at a time, while listening to the accompanying playlists, which its readers have assembled on music-streaming platforms. Professor Dylan lectures a little, then you press play ... Did I enjoy Professor Dylan’s class? I did, but it was weird ... Each of the chapters in The Philosophy of Modern Song is, like the book as a whole, a kind of crumpled flow chart ... The motley canon of 1950s songs that make up the nucleus of The Philosophy of Modern Song are best thought of as Dylan’s happenstance musical autobiography, off-kilter, even a bit absent-minded ... The curious thing about The Philosophy of Modern Song is its near-total erasure of Dylan’s own stamp on American music ... At times...feels like a sci-fi project set in a parallel universe where Bob Dylan stayed home in Hibbing and inherited his father’s electrical supply store ... It doesn’t matter, though. Dylan long ago learned the magic trick of making his presence feel both gossamer and fundamental. He’s in every daffy insight, every constellation of thoughts.
Dylan recreates the feel of about 70 lyrics, in a language where passion and precision coincide. It’s a daredevil attempt, because he keeps reminding himself that the odds are stacked heavily against it – the 'heresy of paraphrase' when a poem is reduced to a summary, may be compounded when words are detached from a melody ... Analysing music is like dissecting a frog – and the frog\songs dies of it. But Dylan presses on, undaunted. His readings most often enhance the mystery ... Dylan’s choices can sometimes seem surprisingly schmaltzy ... Still, there is almost always method in his seemingly strange choices, leading to brilliant explanations which cast an implied sidelight on much of his work (though he never says so) ... This book is in its way a disguised form of autobiography, fuelled by a hatred of divorce lawyers and copyright breakers, as well as a love of the road ... superb.
These are a fan’s notes rather than a songwriter’s secrets, and even though we already knew that Dylan’s musical taste is more eclectic than the average 81 year old’s, his appreciation of everything from vaudeville to blues and honky-tonk to soul and punk is pretty inspiring ... Reading our greatest songwriter tell us how these recordings feel to him, paying tribute to the music that moves him, can’t help but inspire us to listen with wide-open ears to these 66 songs—and all the songs we love.
Dylan serves up essays on 66 songs, each piece sparking conversation of the sort you could imagine hearing in the aisles of a vinyl-packed record store or at the bar of a nightclub that keeps a small stage in the corner for the benefit of local musicians and the people who still love it live ... The point of the project is emotional rather than definitive: to probe the power of song to influence us, make us feel, and ultimately transform us ... On the one hand, you can’t help but wonder how Dylan got to these conclusions. But you are grateful because they encourage the book’s sections of electrifying prose ... Aside from irrational ramblings, Dylan can be scholarly and passionate in digging into the mechanics of the songs he writes about. He makes many astute observations ... Dylan authoritatively throws down controversial assessments and analyses here, but he invites agreement on just about everything. Aside from a shared understanding that, for our survival, songs are as important as air. If you disagree, you deserve neither.
Nostalgia abounds in Bob Dylan’s eclectic and eccentric collection of impressive musical appreciations ... The author offers an extensive hodgepodge of illustrations and photographs alongside rich, image-laden, impressionistic prose ... The author is consistently engaging and often provocative in his explorations ... We can see the author’s mind working, reminiscing, but there’s little autobiography here. Where needed, he tosses in some prodigious music history and biography, and some appreciations read like short stories ... Dylan is clearly a believer, and he will convince readers to follow.
... an entire tome of wild, erratic writing about music that is sure to bedazzle and befuddle ... Why did Dylan decide to write it? Who knows. There’s no introduction to elucidate ... Without music, his quicksilver collages of imagery, narrative, rhetoric, and wisecrack are far more prone to come off as bullshit. As a listener, I don’t care that the real-life Dylan is probably kind of a dick. As a reader, it is harder to overlook ... I’d still advise Dylan fans and the Bob-curious to jump on this bumpy ride. This is Dylan in crate-digging mode, curating material that he’s repurposed and rung his changes on over the decades, much like a rapper rhyming over a funk sample ... At the least, the book makes for a hell of a mixtape. Within its limits, that is ... Dylan frequently goes off on old-man rants about the supposed shallowness of culture today compared with the good old days of his youth. Over and over, he repulsively characterizes women as vixens, bloodsuckers, or just plain shrews ... Half the time, one part of each chapter, usually the riff, could have been excised ... Judicious cuts would have made this handsome coffee-table consumer item feel less substantial—it’s also full of period photos and pictures that, uncaptioned, act less as illustrations than historical montage-style allusions. But the verbal padding makes it boring to read straight through; I’d recommend skimming and dipping over an extended time ... Insights into Dylan’s own artistry are here, but they’re camouflaged or winked at ... With his seemingly detached relationship to his own selfhood, Dylan flagrantly traverses boundaries other people might back away from. It’s as much the realm of the con artist as of the empath. It’s the trickster cool that lets him write a book as unhinged as this one with some semblance of a straight face, and makes so many of us eager to follow along, whatever our better instincts, to flirt with how it might feel to be so unnervingly free.
Though this survey is allegedly about other people’s work, it plays as a fractured memoir and punch list of nightmares. Dylan writes here about sixty-six songs, most recorded in the fifties or sixties, and what begins as a set of interpretations ends up as a sour little diary ... Each of the sixty-six numbers gets a few pages at most, so your stay in each of Bob’s dream worlds is brief. The texts are tricked out with lots of mid-century Americana, like movie stills and photos of record stores ... Dylan seems generally allergic to describing how things sound ... Dylan writes about modern songs as if they were not indivisible from modern recordings, a critical failure in a book that engages in criticism freely and of its own accord. But he’s a lyrics guy—fair play. I wish I had learned something about lyrics from this book.