T for Tom

Day 34 – Time Out of Mind – 1997

Posted in A Dylan A Day by johnsontoms on July 26, 2016



What a breath of fresh air. Time Out of Mind really is the prodigal return that everyone says it is, and it really is from out of this world. But that’s the problem I’m left with, and it validates why, here to now, this was my first time listening to it all the way through.

That reason being that for all its grand achievements, it is artificially Bob Dylan. It’s a great rock’n’roll album for anyone to make, worthy of its Album Of The Year Grammy award, but it somehow isn’t a Bob Dylan record.

Daniel Lanois, the producer behind 1989’s Oh Mercy comeback among many other 80s albums of note, returns with Dylan for this album. And while Dylan approached Lanois, happy that for the first time in a decade he had a book of songs all written, he ceded too much control to Lanois in the studio – looking for an atmospheric sound, Lanois would strategically place the microphones away from the voices and instruments, and the whole thing rings like an echo in space.

On key tracks like “Standing In The Doorway,” “Trying To Get To Heaven,” and “Cold Irons Bound,” Bob Dylan seems perched on a stool in café bar in space, reading from a book while the music drifts and sways behind him. The feeling, the words, and the atmosphere is strong, but it seems more likely to appear on Tom Waits’s Nighthawks At The Diner than on anything Bob Dylan has ever made. Because he never faked anything. Time Out of Mind, so strong and liquid and detailed, is just a bit too much for the man who lived by his words and his words alone.

To channel that fact, Lanois approves the longest song of Bob Dylan’s career, The Highlands, to make the album, all 16-minutes of it. A fan of “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” Lanois tries to capture that same feeling, but drops flat. “Highlands” as the closer on this album, falls in line in every mood except for length. Where “Desolation Row” captures an idea (albeit one of absurdity), “Highlands” drifts around, slowly following a sleepy musical backdrop that never much seems to go anywhere. It tells a story of a man going to different places, and doing strange things, but it without a chorus or bridge, becomes the pinning track of a poet reading from a stage. Something I’ve never much envisioned Dylan to be.

We have to thank for that image the sound of Time Out of Mind, which at least thematically is in line with the album’s title. This is a record from somewhere else, out of place, out of time. And it’s legendary, and will live on forever for this.

But it just doesn’t speak for Bob Dylan. He’s said as much himself, and no one except Bob Dylan has served as producer on a Bob Dylan record since.

Song: “Cold Irons Bound”

This song is the embodiment of everything I said above – cold, dark, seething and fast, there’s a monument of rock’n’roll sound going on behind Bob’s voice, and it tumbles and rolls. It won Rock Record of the year, and remains a great song. But have you ever heard a Bob Dylan song like this one before?


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