Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Time Out Of Mind: Prisoner in a World of Mystery

Released September 30, 1997
"I'm walkin' through streets that are dead."

Thus begins Bob Dylan's 1997 magnum opus Time Out Of Mind.  Seven years since his last album of original songs Under the Red Sky, Dylan reunited with his Oh Mercy producer Daniel Lanois in one of his moodiest albums.  Drenched in blues and folk mythology with some of Dylan's most straight forward lyrics to date, words that conjure existential dread and defiance in cascading waves.

Time Out of Mind won the Grammy for Album of the Year - a work many critics and fans viewed as not only Dylan's return to form, but a masterpiece.

Dylan's ghostly façade on the cover speaks to the "out of time" feel of the entire album, a record full of ghosts.  With the Millennium looming, Dylan seems to be in a race against time itself in a desperate search for meaning, refusing to let the listener off the hook with songs about loss sung with raw emotion.

Even though it sounds grim, the listening experience transcends all the gloom that's balanced by a gallows humor, a scorched earth cynicism combined with fin di siècle grace.

"Love Sick" opens the album with a staccato guitar and the haunting organ of Augie Meyers. Dylan's gravelly singing in the style of a 1930s bluesman.  He sings "I'm sick of love, but I'm in the thick of it," sets up the de facto narrative running through the songs.

"Dirt Road Blues" returns to the walking motif in a song that sounds like a lost jukebox standard circa 1957.  With the proper promotion it would've worked as a single, who knows?

"Standing in the Doorway" continues the walking motif works as a companion piece to "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" from Blonde on Blonde

On "Million Miles" Bob sounds a bit mischievous, "You took a part of me that I really miss."  There's a more of a comic quality, especially with the closing stanza:

Well, there’s voices in the night trying to be heard
I’m sitting here listening to every mind-polluting word
I know plenty of people who would put me up for a day or two
Yes, I’m tryin’ to get closer but I’m still a million miles from you

Dylan's growing cragginess and melancholy with the modern world comes out throughout Time Out Of Mind.  Especially on "Tryin to Get to Heaven", a wistful musing on existence through observing others:

People on the platforms
Waiting for the trains
I can hear their hearts a-beatin’
Like pendulums swinging on chains

Loss cannot be avoided, but we are all in the same boat.

"Til I Fell In Love With You" is a swinging jukebox jam with the signature Lanois "swamp sound" on full display.

The majestic "Not Dark Yet," conjures biblical imagery from the Book of Revelation.  He can't even hear the "murmur of a prayer" and his "sense of humanity has gone down the drain," telegraphs despair and a touch of the divine. 

"Cold Irons Bound" offers more blistering blues, as if a hurricane just blew through the studio, one that will engulf the world.  Ragtag turmoil kicks the album up a few gears, futility gives way to rollicking swagger.

Dylan also included his hit single "To Make You Feel My Love," a song he handed off to Billy Joel and Garth Brooks. Adele also recorded a popular version in 2008.

"Can't Wait" delves deeper into the darkness, here Dylan sounds even more conniving. The "end of time" has begun, the question is for who?  It sounds like 4AM.

And finally "Highlands," the final track that runs over 16 minutes, a Chaplinesque by way of Godard chronicle of a day in the life of "Bob Dylan." "Highlands" lifted a stanza from a Robert Burns poem and transposed the setting to 1990s America. Even though life remains the "same ol' rat race" he decides to get out of bed and face the day. A comical encounter with a waitress parodies the themes of the album as a final joke.  And the last verse:

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

Like the blind man from the Gospels he's "got new eyes" and is determined to keep on living in spite of everything.

Time Out of Mind propelled Dylan's career into the 21st Century not as a dreaded "elder statesman of rock" but an artist continuing to follow the muse wherever it would lead.


  1. Appreciate your thoughts here. I always heard this was a death album, but lots of it seems like it's grappling with emotions of love. Even on the "streets that are dead" someone is in his head, presumably a love interest.

    PS:I linked your page on my blog- hope that's cool.

  2. Thanks for the comment Daniel. Yeah, I think the whole death album idea may originate from the fact Dylan got seriously ill after the recording of the album.

  3. Interesting review. I love the line, "Time Out of Mind propelled Dylan's career into the 21st Century not as a dreaded "elder statesman of rock" but an artist continuing to follow the muse wherever it would lead." Refreshing writing style.

    1. You stole my words, Peter Hyatt, I totally agree. Refreshing insight in Eric Gilliands phrases.

      O.E. Sjølseth - Oslo, Norway