In Brief

Reaction: Bob Dylan releases first new song in eight years

Songwriting legend surprises fans with J.F.K.-themed track

Singer-songwriter Bob Dylan is wowing both critics and fans with his first original new track in eight years.

Released without fanfare on his official website on Thursday evening, the 17-minute ballad, Murder Most Foul, retells the 1963 assassination of then-president John F. Kennedy and the “death of the American dream”, says The Telegraph’s music critic Neil McCormick.

The “elegiac ramble” - Dylan’s first original work since his acclaimed 2012 album Tempest - describes J.F.K. “being led to the slaughter like a sacrificial lamb … they blew off his head while he was still in the car / shot down like a dog in broad daylight”. 

“Dylan’s song was clearly not inspired by the coronavirus pandemic, yet its surprise release has been,” says the newspaper.

A message on the 78-year-old’s website accompanying the track offers thanks to his fans for their support and loyalty, and urges them to “stay safe, stay observant and may God be with you”.

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What are the critics saying?

Music journalists have been blown away yet again by Dylan, who in 2016 became the first songwriter to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Rolling Stone’s Brian Hiatt praises the “structural freedom and mesmerizing arrangement” of this “dizzying, utterly extraordinary” new release.

What begins as a “straightforward recounting of the assassination of John F. Kennedy” gradually “expands into an impressionistic, elegiac, increasingly apocalyptic journey through what feels like the entire Sixties”, Hiatt continues.

The Guardian’s rock and pop critic Alexis Petridis describes Murder Most Foul as a “dark, dense ballad for the end times” and a “fascinating portrait of [Dylan’s] obsession with J.F.K.’s assassination, rich with pop cultural detail and apocalyptic dread”.

The Telegraph’s McCormick also gives the song a rave review, saying that the musician’s “age and experience lend a different kind of weight to his voice and words” compared with his earlier work. 

“The effect of all these thoughts and images piled relentlessly upon one another becomes increasingly intense and mesmeric,” McCormick adds. “Dylan breaks the narrative timeline and conjures an almost hallucinatory vision of the impact of a national tragedy.”

The Times’ Will Hodgkinson agrees that the song is a “reflection on the death of innocence as much as the death of an American leader”.

This new track is a “poignant, reflective reminder of why, as much as he hated the title, Dylan was, and essentially remains, the voice of his generation”, Hodgkinson concludes.

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