Bringin' It All Back Home
Time Out of Mind
The Bob Dylan whose silences were once the stuff of poetry belongs to an idyllic fragment of history when rock and roll promised chaos and beauty, a waxwork figure in a museum in Cleveland. The Dylan who has been with us since the late 1970s is a different Bob--a man who so lost touch with his genius that his best songs lay on the studio floor, a man who so wanted to distance himself from the past he would often turn up his guitar, hide under his hat, and mumble his way through immortal songs until even he couldn't recognize them.
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Yet don't dismiss Dylan just yet; there are still some things left to be said and some places left to visit. Forty-one albums into his career--including best-ofs and worst-ofs--Dylan can still make a record worth coming back to again and again. Time Out of Mind, his first album of all-new songs in seven excruciatingly long years, begs you to listen to it, to embrace it. It's good enough to overcome its lesser moments and reveal a self-portrait of a man so burned by love (and life), he's nothing but a pile of ash.
Dylan's a character as much as a real person, someone you must know intimately to enjoy musically. To an outsider, someone who knows Dylan better as a vestige than as a vital singer-songwriter, Time Out of Mind might well come off as nothing but a record of sad songs, the plaints of a man who's "been hit too hard" by the end of love. Indeed, under producer Daniel Lanois' guidance, Time Out of Mind almost seems to sob, like a lover left for dead; songs seem to begin out of nowhere and fade into oblivion, with Dylan popping up to spin sad tales in which tears turn to blood and love turns to dust.
But to an acolyte, Time Out of Mind is the record Dylan should have made long ago--an intimate still life of a man coming to terms with his age. Time Out of Mind isn't just a record about a man traveling through the world looking for love--almost every song finds Dylan walkin' down some dirt road, like a vagabond wanderer--but also some redemption, some salvation. He sings of wanting to make it into heaven before the gates close; "I've been all around the world," he sings, though you can hear in his voice it still wasn't good enough. He later sings of "comin' to the end of my way," like a man seeking to make some kind of peace. Then, even later, his voice almost a shadow, he groans that "I don't know how much longer I can wait" and that "the end of time has just begun." After so many records tossed off, all those folkie throwdowns and unplugged indiscretions, Dylan finally spills a little more blood on the tracks.