Bob Dylan surprised fans late Thursday night with the release of the epic “Murder Most Foul,” a long, delicate song about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In a short post on his website, Dylan provided little information about the song’s origin, and wished his fans well: “This is an unreleased song we recorded a while back that you might find interesting. Stay safe, stay observant, and may God be with you.” The post includes a formal portrait of President Kennedy. Stylistically, it evokes Tempest(2012) or even Modern Times(2006).
The song unfolds slowly over a delicate instrumental backing of violin, piano and hushed percussion. Dylan’s vocal is rich and expressive as he veers between describing the assassination, the unfolding of the counterculture, and a roll call of musicians, movie lyrics and other pop culture references.
At almost 17 minutes, “Murder Most Foul” is Dylan’s longest song. The lyrics are sometimes playful, especially in its final minutes, but overall this is Dylan at his most incisive and cutting: “What’s new pussycat? What’d I say? / I said the soul of a nation been torn away / And it’s beginning to go into a slow decay / And that it’s 36 hours past Judgment Day.” It’s worth many repeated listens and will occupy any Dylanologist holed up at home.