Bob Dylan will release his first album of original songs in eight years, Rough and Rowdy Ways, on June 19th. Early Friday morning, Dylan dropped a third song from the album, the swaggering, guitar-heavy “False Prophet,” which follows “Murder Most Foul” and “I Contain Multitudes.” “I ain’t no false prophet,” Dylan growls over a slinky striptease-blues groove, powered by a downright filthy fuzz-guitar riff. “I just know what I know.”
The song’s lyrics veer between existential weariness, Willie Dixon-worthy boasts, unabashed come-ons (at one point addressing two women – “Mary Lou” and “Miss Pearl” – at once) and more spiritual allusions. He nods to a Zen koan with a line about “climbing a mountain of swords with my bare feet,” quotes Martin Luther’s phrase “enemy of strife,” tells a “poor devil” to look up at a “city of God,” and ends the song by casually singing “I can’t remember when I was born/ and I forgot when I died,” followed by a fusillade of lead guitar.
Dylan, who won the 2016 Nobel Prize in literature, has long rejected the title of prophet, false or not. “You feel like an impostor when someone thinks you’re something and you’re not,” he told 60 Minutes‘ Ed Bradley in 2004. “I never wanted to be a prophet or savior. Elvis, maybe. I could easily see myself becoming him. But prophet? No.”
In a widely reported passage from a 2007 memoir, former Pope Benedict wrote that he was unhappy with Dylan’s appearance at a Vatican youth event: “There was reason to be skeptical – I was, and in some ways I still am – over whether it was really right to allow this type of ‘prophet’ to appear.”
Dylan’s last album of new songs was 2012’s Tempest, which he followed with three collections of standards: Shadows in the Night, Fallen Angels, and Triplicate. Rough and Rowdy Ways, which is almost certainly named after the 1929 Jimmie Rodgers classic “My Rough and Rowdy Ways,” will be his 39th studio album, landing 57 years after his debut LP. The new album has ten tracks; on the CD version, the 17-minute-long “Murder Most Foul” gets its own disc.