As the 80s drew to a close it was difficult to escape the conclusion that Bob Dylan‘s muse had been largely AWOL since 1976’s Desire. Since that album’s release there had certainly been allusions to greatness but it was usually by way of songs that Dylan chose to omit from shoddy albums. As a result, despite Dyaln’s iconic stars, few held any real hope of a creative renaissance. There were still hints of promise though. After all, Dylan had contributed two not-bad-at-all tracks toTravelling Wilburys, Vol. 1 and the quality of his live shows had started to pick up. A little.
With 1989’s Oh Mercy Bob Dylan officially released some of his best work of the decade. Sure, not many would hold it up as utterly vital when compared to his mid-60s work or Blood on the Tracks, but Oh Mercy served notice that the man many considered to be the finest songwriter of his generation hadn’t completely lost his creative marbles. “Everything Is Broken”, “What Good Am I?” and “Shooting Star” are certainly considerably more solid than anything else he had produced in the last decade, but “Man In The Long Black Coat”, and the stunning “Most Of The Time” show that Dylan could still match his creative peaks when he stayed focused enough.
Admittedly much of the success of Oh Mercy was down to Daniel Lanios’ quite brilliant production job, which gave Oh Mercy its special ambiance which managed to convert a fair-to-middling song like “Disease Of Conceit” from merely passable to reasonably interesting. Oh Mercy is easily one of the best sounding Bob Dylan albums, and one of the only times that he has employed a big name producer and it has actually benefitted the music.
While Oh Mercy is not an out and out classic, it was Bob Dylan’s best full album in well over a decade and as the next few years would bring the awful Under the Red Sky and his two frankly useless covers albums of traditional folk and blues material, it would be almost another full decade before he released anything else even half-decent.