A lot has already been written about Dylan’s various ‘comeback’ records over the years. Much of the press- especially contemporary, is very short-sighted and doesn’t really take into account Dylan’s method of artistry (if you’ll forgive me for even insinuating I have a better grasp of it myself). Each record seems to be just another chapter. Ideas expressed for a period of time, objectively no more important than another, and either deemed to be revisited by Dylan if they still are relevant to him, not necessarily the audience.
Subjectively, I think Oh Mercy is a very good album. Not my absolute36 favorite, but very strong on multiple fronts, and holds up well both as individual songs and as a singular entity. Comeback? Maybe for listeners. This just happens to be wher Dylan was at the end of the eighties.
I do first have to complement the production. Daniel Lanois crafted a very pleasing soundscape, mixed nicel, and constructed to embody Dylan wonderfully. I say that becaust hthere have been a lot of different ‘sounds’ for the artist over the years. Some are more successful, while others’ choices sometimes detract from what would be a better listening experience.
Also, it has to be noted that Dylan’s voice is in fine form at this point. He sings clearly and not particularly nasally as it had been at times nor or gravelly as it would become later. Not annoying in the least, and how you’d like his distinctiveness to resonate.
As far as the songs themselves? I’d go as far as to say this is Dylan peaking once again. From the ‘rap’ of “Political World”, harkening back to “Subterranean Homesick Blues” to the gut-wrentching, Blood On Th Tracks-esque “Most Of The Time”, this is fantastic work.
No, of course not every song works as well for me. I’ve never particularly gotten “Man In The Long Black Coat”, for example. Live, it can have some nice licks, butseems to be a Dylan favorite for some reason. It isn’t bad by any measure, simply doesn’t reasonate with me like the rest. “Disease Of Conceit”, similarly, I can sometimes appreciate, but rarely seek out.
As a companion piece I absolutely have to point out, however, is The Bootleg Series Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs: Rare and Unreleased 1989–2006. This entry covers Oh Mercy, and while only compiles select alternates rather than documenting the complete sessions, is absolutely essential! You wouldn’t believe what some of the songs sound like. Not that the songs are unrecognizable, but that in the process of making the album, Dylan tried multiple subtle different versions with altered arrangements, or phrasing of singing, which totally alter the feel of the songs. It holds up on its own and is fantastic to compare to the originally released album.
So, as less of a calculated comeback album, I think this is public taste realligning with Dylan’s output. Make no mistake from that conceit, either. By any measure you’d like to impose, Oh Mercy is excellent. Highly recommended for Dylan fans of any level, and especially the uninitiated.