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Dylan's mature masterpiece: as poignant as `Blood on the Tracks' - but from an older artist
on 19 January 2012
Bob Dylan is known to admire the work of Herman Melville. `Time out of Mind' is a quotation from `Moby Dick' meaning `from time immemorial' or `as long as anyone can remember.' This 1997 Grammy-winner marks something of a landmark for Dylan in its recognition of the approach of old age. Full of poignant and intelligent song-writing, it marks the initiation of a mature creative period which found further expression in `Love and Theft' and `Modern Times'. Many people proclaim this as Dylan's best-ever album, and from the perspective that it gets deeper into your soul with each repeated listening, they might be right.
Deeply personal and serious in tone, the album at the same time sidesteps the label of `introspection', nor is it `downbeat' or bleak. Dylan has the rare ability to stand apart from himself, to see his experiences from outside and deliver poignant, fly-on-the-wall observations which can cut the listener to the soul. As he's matured as an artist, this characteristic has matured with him to the point where he is the undisputed master of the craft.
The musical style is classic Zimmerman, mostly rock-and-roll bluesy with an upbeat jauntiness in no way out of place with the subject matter. Dylan's voice ain't what it used to be in terms of vocal power, but makes up in gravitas and confidence what it now lacks in youthful range. Phrasing and delivery are textbook examples of relaxed and laconic excellence; he's at home in his chosen idiom as is a fish in water.
Dylan's poetic song lyrics over his 50-year career are some of the best ever written. TooM is the real deal, the real Bob Dylan - perhaps for the first time since `Blood on the Tracks' the songs have an uncompromising personal honesty. Here's a telling verse from the closer, `Highlands':
"The sun is beginning to shine on me
But it's not like the sun that used to be
The party's over and there's less and less to say
I got new eyes
Everything looks far away..."
`Time out of Mind' is an album which could not have been made by a young man, and not by any product of the 21st century's sales-and-image driven global music business. Only a master of his craft, confronting mortality and looking back on a lifetime tinged with regret, could produce a masterpiece like this.