Monday, 22 April 2013

Albums for Life: 18: Bob Dylan: Time Out Of Mind

It's not dark yet, but it's getting there...

There was a time when the songs would come three or four at the same time, but those days are long gone... Once in a while, the odd song will come to me like a bulldog at the garden gate and demand to be written. But most of them are rejected out of my mind right away. You get caught up in wondering if anyone really needs to hear it. Maybe a person gets to the point where they have written enough songs. Let someone else write them.

Off the back of 'Acadie' I slavishly followed Daniel Lanois' productions; falling for Emmylou's 'Wrecking Ball' in particular. 
I've admired Dylan but never loved him; he was recommended to me rather than discovered by me, so was always someone else's joy. I admired 'Highway 61' and 'Blonde on Blonde' and dug the heartache of his 'break up' record; I knew what he was talking about on 'Blood on the Tracks'
Then came 'Time Out of Mind'. 
Dylan addresses mortality face on and uncryptically and it's all rather... moving. Lanois' productions work best with simple chords; allowing him the sonic space to create his wonderful washes of sound; 3 chord blues abounds but there are ballads you'd murder for. 
Lanois dried things up, in line with the arid articulations; there's a wonderful organic clatter and thrum to it all: "When Bob read me the lyrics of this record we were at a hotel room here in New York city. The words were hard, were deep, were desperate, were strong.... That's the record I wanted to make."
The sessions were loose; lots of improvisation and rewrites. Lanois devised a method of dropping Dylan's re-imagined lyrics into early takes. Two bands competed for Bob's attention and affections. During recording keyboard player Jim Dickinson noted "I haven't been able to tell what's actually happening. I know they were listening to playbacks, I don't know whether they were trying to mix it or not! Twelve musicians playing live—three sets of drums,... it was unbelievable—two pedal steels, I've never even heard two pedal steels played at the same time before! ... I don't know man, I thought that much was overdoing it, quite frankly."

Although Dylan wasn't totally happy with the album he did hold it up against his earlier work:
Those records were made a long time ago, and you know, truthfully, records that were made in that day and age all were good. They all had some magic to them because the technology didn't go beyond what the artist was doing. It was a lot easier to get excellence back in those days on a record than it is now... The high priority is technology now. It's not the artist or the art. It's the technology that is coming through. That's what makes Time Out of Mind... it doesn't take itself seriously, but then again, the sound is very significant to that record. If that record was made more haphazardly, it wouldn't have sounded that way. It wouldn't have had the impact that it did.... There wasn't any wasted effort onTime Out of Mind and I don't think there will be on any more of my records.

Many have criticized the woozy production saying that its hazy half light contradicts Dylan's bitter focus, but I think it helps push Dylans voice (richer than ever here) to the fore; the echo gives a layer of ageless resonance, making Dylan's aged rock a rock of ages; he speaks directly to you and you can hear what he's saying. The music doesn't retreat, it simply wraps itself around the singer; a shawl for his sagging shoulders, a rug for the old man's knees.
He's sad, profound and, as always, a little grumpy, but he's never sounded so good...


  1. What a great album, Trevor. One of my all time favourites but will probably be muscled out of my list by an earlier album. My relationship with Dylan goes back as far as I can remember and he easily slipped by my teenaged self's 'Year Zero' mentality.
    There'd probably be ten Dylan albums in my top 100 if I wasn't sticking to the one album per artist rule. This is one of the great statements about mortality in popular music, not that there is that much competition. It's Bob and Johnny really, tied together by their mutual bravery as well as admiration. (Mr Reed has had a couple as well)
    Any others? - there must be but they're not coming to my mind.

  2. I think that laughing Len had a few lines about mortality:

    I asked Hank Williams "How lonely does it get?"
    Hank Williams hasn't answered yet
    But I can hear him coughing all night long

    I loved you when our love was blessed,
    and I love you now there's nothing left
    but sorrow and a sense of overtime.
    And I missed you since the place got wrecked,
    and I just don't care what happens next:
    Looks like freedom but it feels like death,
    it's something in between, I guess.
    It's closing time.

    But it ain't all about death:

    Ring the bells that still can ring.
    Forget your perfect offering.
    There is a crack, a crack in everything.
    That's how the light gets in.

    If I were to have a tattoo that would be it; unfortunately my arse isn't quite big enough...

    1. That's it! You've done gone and spoiled one of my favourite songs!

    2. Ditto Seamus, I also can't listen to Joan Armatrading or Hall & Oates 'silver' album anymore either since TJ disclosed they were his college days "shagging" albums...

  3. Seamus, can you not just enjoy the crack..?