Do we REALLY need yet another Bob Dylan box set?

You're damn right we do

Half-empty venues, every LP greeted with grudging reviews... Bob Dylan's standing in the 1980s was, at best, kneehigh. His trio of late 1970s and early 1980s religious LPs (Slow Train Coming; Saved; Shot Of Love) left fans baffled. As he approached 50, Dylan was in danger of being seen as a rather quaint 1960s relic.

How different today: sailing past 80, Nobel Prize winner, every new collection greeted rapturously, every sold-out show buoyed by ecstatic reviews. Part of the reason for that revival has been the ongoing Bootleg Series, his period-specific collections of "unofficial” recordings. It's the Tutankhamun's tomb of rock'n'roll: some of Dylan's best ever material is only now making its official debut. What is remarkable is that we are up to volume 16 of The Bootleg Series, on top of Dylan's 39 official studio albums.

That 16th volume is titled Springtime In New York and covers 1980 to 1985, the very period, most would concur, that was the nadir of Dylan's career (and, boy, there have been a few of those). It bulges with nearly 60 tracks, 54 of them previously unreleased in any format.

What is so attractive about Dylan today - in an age when celebrity mystique is stripped away even before it happens - is that he remains an enigma. For nearly 60 years, Dylan has sparred with his legend (“My real message? Keep a good head and always carry a light bulb,” was his advice in 1965).

Light bulbs pop on listening to Springtime In New York. Few would have argued on their initial release that the albums of that era - Shot Of Love, Infidels and Empire Burlesque - would stack up alongside masterpieces such as Highway 61 Revisited or Blood On The Tracks. But this glittering collection of outtakes, reworkings, even rehearsals, is as substantial as anything he has released in his extraordinary career.

Here are centuries-old ballads (“Mary Of The Wild Moor”) and country classics (“Cold, Cold Heart”) and Dylan energetically revisiting his own past (“To Ramona”). There's swaggering punk of “Julius And Ethel” and “Straight A's In Love”, while “Tell Me” would be ideal for Adele.

Then, of course, there's the baffling exclusions at the time – “Blind Willie McTell”, “New Danville Girl” and “Angelina” - found here in new, majestic versions. Or how about the only ever performance of the rambunctious “Borrowed Time”? Part of the appeal of the entire Bootleg Series, which began in 1991, is it offers the opportunity to get inside that inscrutable Dylan head. A new “I And I” sparks memories of Leonard Cohen, after admitting he'd slaved for years over "Hallelujah", asking Bob how long that one had taken him. “Oh, 15 minutes...”

There are cover versions to marvel at, such as a poignant “Green, Green Grass Of Home” and the one that, once again, displays Dylan's perspicacity: “Sweet Caroline”. Move over, Gareth Southgate, and tell Neil Diamond the news. After this avalanche, roll on The Bootleg Series, Vol 17.

This article appeared in GQ