15 Years Ago: Bob Dylan’s ‘Time Out of Mind’ Album Released
As an artist who had already reinvented himself several times over the years, Bob Dylanâs 1997 rebirth turned out to be not only his greatest comeback but also the greatest third act in rock ânâ roll history. Partly inspired by his own mortality, partly inspired by his own mythology and partly inspired by whatever goes on inside Bob Dylanâs head, âTime Out of Mindâ is a milestone in a career thatâs had plenty of them over the past five decades.
But itâs not like the then-56-year-old singer-songwriter was at a total career standstill at that point. After stumbling through most of the â80s with one mediocre record after another, Dylan teamed up with producer Daniel Lanois on 1989âs âOh Mercy,â his best album in at least a decade. He followed it up with the next yearâs âUnder the Red Sky,â a peculiar, but not altogether unpleasant detour, and a pair of albums â âGood As I Been to Youâ and âWorld Gone Wrongâ â made up of traditional songs arranged by Dylan.
He also launched his Never Ending Tour around this time, which sparked his live performances and in turn inspired him in the studio. At the start of 1997, he got back together with Lanois, and with a handful of studio vets, they worked their way through approximately 15 songs, 11 of which ended up on âTime Out of Mindâ (the outtakes can be found on âThe Bootleg Series Vol. 8 â Tell Tale Signs: Rare and Unreleased 1989â2006â).
Before the albumâs release, Dylan ended up in the hospital with a serious heart condition. When âTime Out of Mindâ finally came out on Sept. 30, 1997, the albumâs centerpiece, âNot Dark Yet,â as well as a few other tracks, suddenly seemed like an old masterâs musings on his near-death experience, even though the songs were written and recorded before he got sick.
Whatever the case, âTime Out of Mindâ was Dylanâs best album in decades. It was immediately praised by both critics and fans, reached the Top 10 and won a Grammy for Album of the Year. From the opening âLove Sickâ (which bears Lanoisâ trademark atmospheric production) to âCold Irons Boundâ (Dylanâs toughest song in years) to the 16-minute closer âHighlandsâ (a stream-of-consciousness romp that namedrops Neil Young), âTime Out of Mindâ was the work of an artist who still sounded like he had something to prove to the growing list of cynics.
The albumâs legacy carries on to this day. It spurred a creative renaissance in Dylan thatâs yielded solid, if occasionally overpraised, works like âLove and Theft,â âModern Timesâ and the new âTempest.â The past 15 years have been Dylanâs most fertile period since his mid-â60s peak, a streak no other comeback artist has been able to sustain. Plus, ‘Time Out of Mind’ gave us another one of his ever-changing vocal quirks. This one was informed as much by the dark, despairing music as it was by age. In a way, Dylan’s raspy, worn-out voice is the near-perfect symbol for his near-perfect album.
Watch Bob Dylan’s ‘Not Dark Yet’ Video