Bob Dylan released "I Contain Multitudes" at midnight, his second new song in three weeks. Like "Murder Most Foul," the song came with no hint of a new album, no details about when it was recorded or with whom.
The sparse instrumentation and languid vocals are reminiscent of Dylan's three recent albums of mid-20th century pop songs; the quiet allows him to relax into his worn but still expressive voice. The languid tempo contradicts the music, a list of sometimes funny (we often forget that Dylan is funny) and preposterous brags of the singer's power and prowess that evoke the blues: "I carry four pistols and two large knives." The song is framed as a come-on ("Follow me close, I'm going to Balian Bali / I'll lose my mind if you don't come with me"), but ends in a rejection that rivals Dylan's most nasty lyrics: "Get lost madame, get up off my knee / Keep your mouth away from me." He sounds like a drunk in a saloon with no money, but a lot of talk.
"I Contain Multitudes" doesn't play on the epic scale of "Murder Most Foul," but it is equally dense and powerful. The title, of course, comes from Walt Whitman's free verse masterpiece "Song of Myself." It's a fitting conceit for an artist who, in this song, compares himself to Anne Frank and Indiana Jones, and who has made brilliant records as a political folksinger, an amphetamine fueled rocker, a born-again Christian, a country squire and a (croaky) crooner of standards. "What more can I tell you?" he sings. "I sleep with life and death in the same bed."