“I Contain Multitudes” is Bob Dylan’s second surprise new song in three weeks, making it seem increasingly likely that the Nobel Prize winner has a new album on the way — which would be his first collection of original songs since 2012’s Tempest. The Walt Whitman-referencing new song is much shorter and less overtly ambitious than his March release, “Murder Most Foul” — “I Contain Multitudes” is a delicate ballad with a minimal arrangement (harp-like guitar chords, rumbling cello, tropical steel guitar, zero percussion) and a Tin Pan Alley melody, à la 2006’s “Beyond the Horizon.”
The lyrics, meanwhile, are full of mischief, wordplay, and daring. “I paint landscapes/I paint nudes,” Dylan sings, with a near-audible wink. “I contain multitudes.… I’m a man of contradictions/ I’m a man of many moods.”
He nods to David Bowie (rhyming “all the young dudes” with the title phrase), Edgar Allan Poe (“Got a tell-tale heart/Like Mr. Poe/Got skeletons in the wall/Of people you know”), Irish poet Anthony Raftery’s “The Lass From Bally-na-Lee,” and William Blake, among others. And occasionally, he may be intent on pure shock: “I’m just like Anne Frank/Like Indiana Jones/And them British bad boys the Rolling Stones,” he sings.
“Murder Most Foul,” released in March, is a 17-minute-long song that jumps from John F. Kennedy’s assassination to a kaleidoscopic look at 20th-century America. Dylan’s most recent album was Triplicate, the latest in a series of LPs devoted to covers of prerock standards.