Creativity comes in waves, or at least it does for Bob Dylan. After his initial tidal wave showcased masterclass after masterclass, from Blonde on Blonde to Desire, with Blood on the Tracks following close behind. That barely scratches the 1960s period. The less said about the 1980s the better, for his days as a travelling Wilbury are best left to rest. But Dylan is not a man to take defeat lying down, or at least, that is what we can assume with his sudden, slow return to musicianship. Love and Theft was, for a time, the high of this second coming. Rough and Rowdy Ways put that idea to rest.
His allusions to Ernest Hemmingway are intricate and fitted into an odd ode to the work of Lewis Carrol. Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum may not be the most lyrically inspired, but the narrative he weaves is fantastic. Electric guitar strums crash through, the high wails crash against a bassline that holds the track together. His gravelly tones are not as sultry or experienced as Rough and Rowdy Ways, but there is ample material here to suggest a greater growth. Mississippi shows the variety of that vocal change. Sombre, slow moments are available to those that desire it followed up by a 1950s-inspired swing. All of it packs a punch, but jabs from different sides, genres and sounds are disorienting. Dylan manages this wild package of themes well, though.
Love and death are the obvious bedfellows Dylan avoids. Love and Theft are closely related in this twelve-track masterstroke return for the Voice of a Generation. How many roads must a man walk down before he proves himself worthy and satisfied with his work? Blonde on Blonde is his peak, that is his perspective. But peaks are meaningless. Love and Theft proves that. An artist who has hit their critical or commercial high still has more to offer, even if it were not the most inspiring work. Love and Theft has interesting merits to it, but most come from the break of creativity Dylan finds himself with. Nothing to prove, and certainly nothing to push forward with. Future albums to follow this thought process would be McCartney III or, ironically, Travelling Wilburys Vol. 1. There is nothing more inspiring than fun, but there is nothing less interesting than it either.
Love and Theft is a definitive offering from Dylan. His broad range is expanded on, it flutters between genres, flirting with their qualities and their weaknesses. It is the sign of an artist throwing everything at the wall just to see what sticks. There is no setlist of goals, just a desire to create and a fantastic way to do so. Experimenting with new styles and unique sounds, Dylan stretches himself a bit too thin, but the results are successful and interesting. A change to his vocal strengths inspires new ways of morphing the instruments around the voice he now offers. A flash of style here and a new innovation there, and Dylan has all the makings of a remarkably loose album, yet that is its finest aspect.