I can smile in the face of mankind
Don’t even remember what her lips felt like on mine
Most of the time.
How on earth do you begin to chose one track to talk about by an artist like Bob Dylan? A man with thirty-eight studio albums, twelve instalments into the Bootleg Series.. probably close to three hundred original compositions to chose from. Given that I can go on jags of listening to very little but Bob it’s a near impossible task to think of even a Top Five as that could change on a day-to-day.
Thankfully, that’s not the purpose of these infrequent Tracks posts. It’s more a case of highlighting particular favourites, those ‘always on the play’ songs and, in this instance, from the 1989 Oh Mercy album that’s ‘Most of the Time’. *
My first introduction to this shimmering, atmospheric beauty came via the film ‘High Fidelity’. We’re talking the year 2000. My Dylan awareness and collection is growing but there were – and still are – gaps. One of which was his work in the 80’s. You can’t blame me, I’m far from alone in not really digging his religious albums and while I now think Infidels is a pretty solid album, the three that followed it weren’t and that period didn’t exactly sit on the same priority-purchase list as Blonde on Blonde, Highway 61 Revisited or Desire did at the time (I’ve still not added those missing 80’s discs to my collection).
So when John Cussack sat soaked on a bench in the pissing rain in a moment of cod-psychology realisation** and a slow-burner song with what sounded very much like Dylan singing over it came through the speakers I had to find out what it was. I mean, shit, they only used a minute of it at most in the film. I scoured the track-listing on the soundtrack when it came out and found ‘Most of the Time’ sandwiched between songs by Love and Sheila Nicholls. But… for reasons unknown didn’t buy it. Perhaps my student loan hadn’t arrived yet or perhaps I’d actually used it for tuition and course books. Either way, it was a few more years before I added Oh Mercy to my collection and fell in love with it all over again.
Oh Mercy is one hell of a fine album by anyone’s standards. For Bob Dylan it represented something of a comeback both commercially and critically. The songs one here are as good as his earlier high standards and Daniel Lanois does a bang up job with the production. Oddly enough, close to a decade later with Dylan’s appeal on the wane again after two albums of covers it would be Lanois who he turned to to produce Time Out of Mind to further acclaim.
Kicking off the second half of the album, ‘Most of the Time’ is perhaps the lushest track on it in terms of production but the lyrics are what get me. That caveat… “I don’t even notice she’s gone… most of the time” and it’s implications…. Direct, relatable, to the gut. Dylan (as he indicated in Chronicles Volume One***) was really on a streak, suddenly, with the writing on Oh Mercy – as The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 would show; even the outtakes were strong – but for me ‘Most of the Time’ is the best thing on it.
*In another it could easily be ‘Tangled Up In Blue’ or ‘Love Sick’ but never ‘Wiggle, Wiggle’.
**I liked the film, though as I get older less so, soundtrack aside. The book on the other hand… the character is a complete and utter twat and I had zero interest or compassion for the prize prick.
***Though it’s been suggested that the Oh Mercy section of the book is pure fiction.