Back in October 1962, a 21-year-old Bob Dylan thought the world was going to end. The Cuban Missile Crisis, a nuclear stand-off between Kennedy and Khrushchev, left the world holding its breath. ‘People sat around wondering if it was the end, and so did I. Would one o’clock the next day even come?’ And so Dylan did the one thing he knew – he wrote a song, one of ‘desperation’ and ‘terror’ as he described it: ‘line after line after line, trying to capture the feeling of nothingness.’ The song was A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.

Fast forward almost six decades and in the middle of another global crisis, Dylan has returned with new music again. Rough and Rowdy Ways, his first album of new material since 2012 was released last Friday, preceded by a string of surprise digital singles.

The first, Murder Most Foul, clocked in at almost seventeen minutes: both the longest song Dylan has recorded, and also his first US Billboard number one.

Rough and Rowdy Ways might have been many years in the making, but its mood and feels chimes with the ways the times are a-changin’. On his 1997 album Time Out of Mind, Dylan sang ‘It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there’.

In 2020, someone has been dimming the light switch, though thankfully not Dylan’s creative energy.

There’s death abound on this album, but in that Dylanesque way, done in different, elliptical ways. So Murder Most Foul focuses on the assassination of JFK, while My Own Version Of You sees him building his old Frankenstein-type creation.

‘I sleep with life and death in the same bed,’ Dylan sings on the album’s opener. Later, on Mother of Muses, he suggests, ‘I’ve already outlived my life by far.’

Music has come a long way since that 21-year-old troubadour sang about the Cuban Missile Crisis. Rock and roll has gone from rebellion to being the sound of the establishment: the Rolling Stones are now national treasures and big names are known as heritage acts. I remember an interview Eric Clapton once gave in which he said if he was young again, he wouldn’t have picked up the guitar to woo women but learned to be a DJ instead.

But the one area, perhaps, where rock and roll is doing something different and new is about reaching the end of that mythical, musical highway. Later works by Leonard Cohen (You Want It Darker) and David Bowie (Blackstar) drew on similar themes.

Maybe it is the uncharted territory that gives such music its freshness.

Dylan here is like an ageing heavyweight champion: the pace might be slower, but the shuffle in the footwork, the timing, it’s all still there.