Time Out Of Mind
Columbia Records, 1997
REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/10/2010
There was a time in the not-so-distant past when the public and the critical establishment cried out, "Bob Dylan has lost his fastball!" Even the darling of Rolling Stone magazine was not above criticism as his career flailed in the ’80s, and through the majority of the ’90s. The legend found Christianity, then moved on to a new focus, toured with the Dead, and generally underwhelmed.
It isn't often that I go digging for Dylan records; really, once you've completed the trinity of The Times They Are-a-Changin', Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde, what else is left? Sure, there's the occasional flicker in a record like Blood On The Tracks, but as far as I was concerned, there wasn't much Dylan left to discover. Luckily, the Pierce Memorial Archives are vast and deep, and always offer up something for the willing listener.
Apparently the main misconception surrounding Time Out Of Mind is that Dylan recorded it with the specter of death hanging over him. A little fact-finding reveals that this was not the case, but to be fair to the conspiracy theorists, the urban legend does make the record that much more interesting.
The song titles alone are classic examples of Dylan's outstanding way with words, and the song themselves reveal more of his genius as they play out. The hint of redemption in the face of oncoming doom in a line such as "It ain't dark yet, but it's getting there," is just classic Zimmerman. Indeed there is a focus on songwriting here that was severely lacking during Dylan's two decades of wandering in the desert.
With the most recent Dylan records, there has not been a tremendous variation in sound. With the exception of Bob sounding closer and closer to a creaky door hinge, differentiating between Modern Times and Together Through Life serves no purpose because there is none (the less said about the Christmas record the better... yeesh). The seeds of his modern-day efforts were planted in Time Out Of Mind, and to be perfectly frank they are more enjoyable than what followed.
The aura associated with Time Out Of Mind lays in the production, which lines up perfectly with Dylan's stellar songwriting. The swirling, echo-laden vocals from the auteur himself, revealing that yes, he still remembered how to sing. The instrumentation itself is relatively sparse, with a greater focus on setting the appropriate tone than experimenting or showcasing. It's a professional record delivered by professionals.
The only misstep comes with the final track, "Highlands." How can I sum up how this song fails in two words or less? Let me think here...ah yes: sixteen minutes! Granted there are some lengthy tracks already present on Time Out Of Mind, but to have the final track double the running time of the longest track and place it right smack dab at the end of the album? To complicate matters, the gentle, easy-going epic is nowhere near interesting enough to actually hold the listener’s attention for that long. It's a baffling choice that really does drop the record down a peg or two.
For those who were bored to tears by the last couple of Dylan albums, I am here to preach the good word that is Time Out Of Mind. One would think that Bob's "death" record would have come closer to the time of his actual demise, but that minor quibble aside, there is a hell of an album waiting here for you should you choose it. Yes, Dylan can still throw 93.