With Just A Hint Of Mayhem

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“I Contain Multitudes” – Bob Dylan April 20, 2020

Filed under: Review — justwilliam1959 @ 9:39 am
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Hot on the heels of his epic 17-minute dissection of the J.F.K. assassination and the last 60 years of popular culture (and also his first Billboard number one), “Murder Most Foul”, Bob Dylan returns with yet another incredible new single.

“I Contain Multitudes” seems to be a more personal work than “Murder Most Foul”. Musically it is just as sparse and minimalistic as its predecessor. The arrangement seems to consist of just gently strummed guitar chords, deep and mournful cello, steel slide guitar and voice. There is no percussion. This creates a very intimate atmosphere that is both similar and radically different to “Murder Most Foul”. Where “Murder Most Foul” felt like Dylan giving a quasi-religious sermon, “I Contain Multitudes” feels warm and conversational.

Structurally however it’s a little more familiar to long term Dylan fans. It follows similar “mathematic” song structures to his earlier works. Each verse contains four lines with a simple AABB rhyming scheme followed by two lines which end in the title of the song. This type of songwriting is Dylan’s bread and butter. A quick look back at some of his most loved songs, such a “Desolation Row”, “Visions of Johanna”, “Mr. Tambourine Man”, “Like a Rolling Stone” etc. reveals this same pattern repeated in a multitude (heh) of different ways.

Lyrically, obviously, is where “I Contain Multitudes” gets really interesting. Like “Murder Most Foul”, it draws from the world of literature but where the former song looked to Shakespear, “I Contain Multitudes” takes its title from a line in ‘Song of Myself, 51’, a poem by Walt Whitman, a writer Dylan has regularly signalled his admiration for in the past. Like the Poem, the song seems to be taking a long, hard look at the artist with a nostalgic and rose-tinted view of his past. Also, like “Murder Most Foul”, it is packed with references to various cultural touchstones which are as disparate as they are iconic. Edgar Allen Poe, Anne Frank, Indiana Jones, “them British bad boys, The Rolling Stones”, William Blake, Beethoven and Chopin all find themselves in the lyrical maze. These lyrics simultaneously paint the writer as both a slightly boring everyman and an exciting and roguish outlaw. He lives on the “boulevard of crime” and carries “four pistols and two knives” but he also paints landscapes and nudes. There is also an undercurrent of awareness of mortality which is only natural, I suppose, for a man in his late seventies. As such a lot of the lyrics read as a more literate “My Way”. Lyrics like “I sleep with life and death in the same bed” certainly cut deep in this regard.

This is another strong Dylan single and we look forward to more. At this rate, we might have to set up a Bob Dylan Desk here at With Just a Hint of Mayhem!

Written by Tom Ray

“I Contain Multitudes” is available now to stream or buy from all good digital retailers and streaming services.

“I Contain Multitudes” – Lyrics

Today, and tomorrow, and yesterday, too
The flowers are dyin’ like all things do
Follow me close, I’m going to Bally-na-Lee
I’ll lose my mind if you don’t come with me
I fuss with my hair, and I fight blood feuds
I contain multitudes

Got a tell-tale heart like Mr. Poe
Got skeletons in the walls of people you know
I’ll drink to the truth and the things we said
I’ll drink to the man that shares your bed
I paint landscapes, and I paint nudes
I contain multitudes

A red Cadillac and a black mustache
Rings on my fingers that sparkle and flash
Tell me, what’s next? What shall we do?
Half my soul, baby, belongs to you
I rollick and I frolic with all the young dudes
I contain multitudes

I’m just like Anne Frank, like Indiana Jones
And them British bad boys, The Rolling Stones
I go right to the edge, I go right to the end
I go right where all things lost are made good again
I sing the songs of experience like William Blake
I have no apologies to make
Everything’s flowing all at the same time
I live on a boulevard of crime
I drive fast cars, and I eat fast foods
I contain multitudes

Pink pedal-pushers, red blue jeans
All the pretty maids, and all the old queens
All the old queens from all my past lives
I carry four pistols and two large knives
I’m a man of contradictions, I’m a man of many moods
I contain multitudes

You greedy old wolf, I’ll show you my heart
But not all of it, only the hateful part
I’ll sell you down the river, I’ll put a price on your head
What more can I tell you? I sleep with life and death in the same bed
Get lost, madame, get up off my knee
Keep your mouth away from me
I’ll keep the path open, the path in my mind
I’ll see to it that there’s no love left behind
I’ll play Beethoven’s sonatas, and Chopin’s preludes
I contain multitudes

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