Bob Dylan,
Oh Mercy
(Sony, 1989)

The 1980s was far from Dylan's greatest decade musically, but he made a strong statement of his continued genius and longevity with Oh Mercy. Forget cover songs, forget famous guest musicians, forget everything but Dylan's unmatched songwriting ability, perceptive commentary on life and unique voice. A confidently mellow Dylan infuses the album as a whole, but, lest anyone think his rocking days are over, he cranks out two stomping tracks in "Political World" and "Everything is Broken."

The social commentary of the artist shines through in the opening track as he laments the dehumanizing effects of materialism, politics and life in general; these same feelings emerge in "Everything is Broken," but they are presented there in the form of a list of problems characterizing and defining the broken state of the world. I remember hearing this song used as the backdrop of some TV features (probably sports events, if I remember correctly); it was also the last new Dylan single I have heard played on the radio, which is a sad statement to make considering the wealth of great new material he has given us since this album's release. Inevitably, one's attention is drawn most forcibly to the song "Man in the Long Black Coat" because it showcases Dylan's vintage musical storytelling persona.

The slower songs also feature some incredible new Dylan music. "Shooting Star" is probably the best known of these, since it was included on Dylan's monumental MTV Unplugged album a few years later. "Ring Them Bells" is a dirgelike, mournful classic, "Most of the Time" is a great song about continuing to live one's life after losing someone special, and "Where Teardrops Fall" is, in my opinion, a beautiful song that shines among the great tracks included here. I do believe the album weakens as it nears the end, though. "What Good Am I?" and "What Was It You Wanted?" are good but unexceptional songs, and the important theme of "Disease of Conceit" is easily lost amid the sounds of the album's least enjoyable music track. However, the greatness that is "Shooting Star" ensures a satisfying conclusion to one of Dylan's best albums of the last two decades.

- Rambles
written by Daniel Jolley
published 11 June 2005

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