It's at this point where I must admit that before I heard this album I was somewhat familiar with several of the songs, mainly because perversely, I already owned The Byrds Play Bob Dylan without knowing the originals. Chimes of Freedom is an undoubted highlight. Not only is the imagery pouring out of him over these astonishing seven minutes (my favourite line is "Through the wild cathedral evening the rain unraveled tales"), but the melody is incredibly uplifting, making it his most hopeful-sounding song yet.
Another stonker, also memorably covered by The Byrds is My Back Pages, where again he seems to be rejecting the "Lies that life is black and white" and entering a new phase. I can hear anger, but like Chimes of Freedom it's passionate, vivid and an absolute TUNE. Here he is in 1992 busting it out with a few mates.
This new, more personal stage includes plenty of relationship songs, such as the beautiful To Ramona, a probably futile attempt to comfort and advise a lover, and Spanish Harlem Incident, whose lyrics I found as captivating as Bob's spellbinding gypsy gal. I hated the mean, overlong Ballad In Plain D, an eight-minute bitchfest which I wasn't surprised to learn he later wished he'd left off the album. He becomes the dumpee in I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met), and reverts to dumper in closer It Ain't Me Babe, another of my favourites here, of which I'd only heard the Johnny and June version before. It's clear that the "it's not you, it's me" message could easily apply to the folkie fans of his protest records. He's moving on alright.
This is almost certainly (almost!) my favourite Dylan album so far, due to the killer combo of the colourful, often bewildering lyrics and some properly belting tunes. I realise it marks an important transition, and I'm pretty excited, because the next album out of the box is one I already know, since I found a vinyl copy at a car boot sale last summer. Things are about to get really interesting.
What do you think of this album? What does it mean to you? Tell me in the comments below.