Review Summary: Bob Is Back! Daniel Lanois producing: keyboards, stomping rhythms and "Most of the Time".1 of 1 thought this review was well written
There are, for me, good reasons why I hate 1980s: they are black hole in history of popular music. They brought poor and computer-ish (cheap is maybe better word) production, awful drum sounds, not at all talented stars who couldn't sing or write songs or play some instrument (usually one hit wonders), bad haircuts. And what's more tragic, in my hometown, Zagreb, Croatia, 80s are never out of fashion. NEVER! Two more reasons why I don't like 80s, that's because mainstream really sucked and almost every musician or group I really love, had hard times during that decade or broke apart. The Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, The Clash, Elton John, The Beach Boys, Gene Clark, Sly Stone, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young all experienced if not commercial, but creative nadirs of their careers at least for most of the 1980s (love and hugs to Tom Waits, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen - 1980s have done them no wrong). Most of them were stars that achieved fame in 1960s, and they were not young anymore and had yet to face the aging and growing up. Or is it called mid-life crisis? Many of them had to clean up. Life on rock and roll tours surely wasn't too healthy. And many of their albums were considered as nice tries.
Bob Dylan is no exception. His star was descending. He was lost in 1980s production too, half baked songs, and I feel he didn't know what to do with himself. In 1988 he began his famous Never Ending Tour, running away from his demons, and took some time to collaborate with his friends George Harrison, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne. And, recently having heard their recordings, I think that they gave him warmth and inspiration. He wasn't feeling alone anymore. Another man who helped Bob back on the right track was Daniel Lanois, the guy who worked with U2, and challenged Bob to come up with good songs. And Lanois put no 1980s drums, and shaped sound by putting carefully and decently soundscapes and keyboards. He has also sewn seeds for Dylan's next masterpiece, "Time Out Of Mind".
"Oh Mercy" is in my opinion probably Dylan's most versatile album in terms of sounds and production. Stomping numbers like "Political World" and "Everything Is Broken" recall both "Basement Tapes" and "Love And Theft", but they are sadder and more serious. Most of "Oh Mercy" album are slow and quiet songs with dramatic pauses filled with some keyboards or pedal steel or dobro or just very loud silence ("Man In The Long Black Coat", "What Good Am I?", "Disease Of Counceit", "Ring Them Bells", "Shooting Star"). But Dylan and Lanois were using that trick too many times in my opinion, and some ideas were good but they had yet to be further developed. But speaking of Dylan's "love" with studio tinkering, this is really high level of sophistication by his standards. The album's main flaw is that it sounds fragmented and unfinished. Songs are uniformly excellent but I miss some loud ending as full stop. Maybe "Series Of Dreams" (an outtake, later released on "Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3") should have been put in the end of this but it wasn't completed till album's release.
The album's highlight is of course "Most of the Time", song used in "High Fidelity", immortal song about ex-lover and unfinished business with her. Great lyrics, great song, great vocal performance, and Dylan sounds loud and clear, but most of all human and wounded as his backing band soars.
This is triumphant, although short lived, Bob Dylan's return to form. Main goal was accomplished. He proved he wasn't spent force and he had lot of great songs to write. And of course, it was released at the end of 1980s.