Dylan’s previous release, “Time Out of Mind,” was his best album in almost 25 years. It was one of the great albums of his career, and when you make a statement like that about an artist like Bob Dylan, essentially what you’re saying is that it was one of the great albums in rock history. And so it was - I would be hard pressed to name another album released between 1990 and today that matches its greatness. It’s that good.
Critical to the story (and it’s one I’ve told before, so bear with me) is the fact that very little of the original work Dylan released between 1975 and 1997 could lay claim to the greatness that had become to be synonymous with the name Dylan. Yes, there were good albums. Yes, there were great songs. Yes, I own many of those albums, and still listen to many of them today. But great? Sorry, but no.
When word came out in 2001 that Dylan would soon release a follow-up to “Time Out of Mind,” I began to get nervous. What if the prior album was an aberration? What if Dylan had really gone out in a burst of artistic glory, with nothing left to follow it up with? Did I really want to know?
“Love and Theft” was released on September 11, 2001, which gave me just one more reason to avoid it. But after the initial shock of that day had begun to lessen a bit, the reviews began to pop up – and if one were to believe them, it was clear that Dylan hadn’t slipped, that this particular “new Dylan” – only the 100th or so incarnation of his long and storied career – was around to stay. Obviously, I eventually got around to buying, and listening to, the album. And it quickly became apparent that I really had nothing to worry about – Dylan truly was back.
The breadth and depth of “Love and Theft” is astonishing. It is the work of a master at the height of his powers, an artist comfortable in every idiom that you’re willing to throw at him – rock, pop, blues, country, and everything in between. There are at least six all-time Dylan classics on the record: “Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee,” “Mississippi,” “Summer Days,” “Lonesome Day Blues,” “High Water (for Charley Patton), and “Cry a While.” The others? Well, they’re not far behind.
In the end, it was a great Bob Dylan album – good enough to be tabbed #9 of the decade.