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Old 12-14-2021, 11:29 AM   #31 (permalink)
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Would anyone else title an album after a track from a previous one, and not include that track, or any reference back to it? Well, probably not. But then, this is just another example of Waits not so much breaking the rules as gleefully pounding them with a sledgehammer, in the process taping the sound to be used as another effect on his album. Two years after the herculean Rain Dogs completed, he was back in the studio and this time he had help. New wife Kathleen Brennan was beginning to have a little more of an input on her maverick husband's music now, arranging all the vocals on the new album and also helping to write three of the songs.

Originally conceived as a play, and premiered in Chicago more than a year before the release of the album, this next recording would continue Waits's foray into the world of experimental music, and lead to him playing even stranger instruments, such as the Optigan, Farfisa and, um, rooster? It would also feature the only collaborations in songwriting he had allowed since Bob Alcivar wrote the music for “Potter's Field” back in '77 on Foreign Affairs, and though he would count the co-writers he worked with on the fingers of one hand, Kathleen would become more and more involved in writing songs with him, until with 1992's Bone Machine they would share equal songwriting credits; Waits would finally have someone who knew his music as well as he did, and who could be his muse, and perhaps vice versa.

Franks Wild Years (1987)

If you've been following my writings on his discography, you'll remember that the title of this album, as mentioned above, comes from a song off Swordfishtrombones, about a guy who finally snaps under the pressure of suburban living, burns down his house and drives off in the direction of Hollywood (Frank Goes To Hollywood?) in search of a new life. Although the album is subtitled “Un operachi romantico in two acts”, and was, as mentioned, based on the play of the same name, oddly enough it does not appear to be a concept album. At the same time, there does appear to be a general thread of motifs running through the songs: themes like loneliness, depression, failure, regret all crop up and the songs could to a degree be said to be linked to form a loose story.

“Hang on St. Christopher”, which kicks the album off, can certainly be seen as following on directly from the song on the '83 album, as Frank, driving north on the Hollywood Freeway, goes over in his mind the actions of the last few hours. Whether he regrets them or not is unknown, but it seems he is determined to put his past life behind him as he joins the great swell of humanity heading down the highway. With a down-and-dirty brass section backing him, Waits sings the vocal in a sort of mechanised style, as if he were talking on a really old radio or microphone. There's something of a shuffle in the rhythm and again it's a song with no real verse or chorus, just all the lines sung in the same melody. “Straight to the Top (Rhumba)” is indeed just that, backed by brass and double bass with congas going and Waits with another strained, hoarse vocal which seems somehow divorced from the melody and yet works well. Glockenspiel on “Blow Wind Blow” and pump organ recalls “Tango Till They're Sore” in a slower, moodier vein, with some lonely horn blowing. Waits changes his vocal style halfway through here, affecting a kind of operatic tenor, while ”Dancing at the slaughterhouse” recalls a line from “Gun Street Girl”.

I have to admit, this is not one of my favourite Waits albums. After Swordfishtrombones and Rain Dogs I was pretty disappointed with this one, but that's just me. He changes his voice again for “Temptation”, a slowish, almost tango-like piece driven by bass, marracas and congas, with some freaky guitar from the returning Marc Ribot. We're back in familiar territory for a moment then as one of two versions of “Innocent When You Dream” takes us back to the bar, with Waits a slurring drunk singing ”The bats are in the belfry/ The dew is on the moor” and the song moves in a sort of slow waltz carnival rhythm, a real drinking song. Some nice violin from Ralph Carney and accordion maestro William Schimmel takes the seat behind the piano. One of the better songs on the album, certainly.

Schimmel straps back on his squeezebox for “I'll Be Gone”, and there's that rooster I spoke of, crowing at the very start. It's one of those madcap songs Waits loves so much, bopping along on a bouncy bassline as he sings gleefully ”I drink a thousand shipwrecks/ Tonight I steal your paycheques”. By contrast, “Yesterday is Here” plods along in a slow, measured western-style rhythm, bass and guitar driving the tune and Waits returning to what could be called a normal vocal for him, a lot of echo on it giving it a very sombre feel. A screechy baritone horn runs “Please Wake Me Up” in as the vocal comes through almost unnoticed, a slow, Beatley tune with elements of Sinatra and old twenties Vaudeville there too, with another carnival organ outro before a short accordion piece prefaces one of the better tracks on the album, one of my favourites. “More Than Rain” is like a Waits tune of old, and could have been on Blue Valentine or Heartattack and Vine.

Featuring an accordion intro that really recalls the album cover, it moves along on again a sort of slow carnival rhythm, with bells, bass and of course the accordion and horn. Great lines like ”None of our pockets are lined with gold/ There are no dead presidents we can fold” really make the song. Fans of The Wire will be familiar with “Way Down in the Hole”, which was the theme for that show all through its run, though performed by various different artists each season, Waits being one of them. Waits screeches the vocal in a sort of semi-gospel tone allied to a lowdown funk melody driven on Ralph Carney's soulful sax as well as Ribot's guitar. Echoes of the melody from “Hang on St. Christopher” coming through here, while a second version of “Straight to the Top”, subtitled “Vegas”, gives us a different interpretation of the second track, with a very Sinatraesque turn. Cocktail piano from Schimmel and super little bass lines from Greg Cohen as well as Carney's sax really put you in the front row of a Vegas nightclub as Waits sings, with obvious relish in the irony, ”I can't let Mister Sorrow/ Drag ol' Frankie down!”

It kind of ends on a bit of a confused mess though, like a reverse tune-up, and segues directly into the again Sinatra/Armstrong-like “I'll Take New York”, with some very dissonant organ and a melody that is cheekily very close to that of Frankie's classic, then a Rain Dogs style infuses “Telephone Call from Istanbul” with some picked guitar and banjo from Ribot. Good advice from Waits: ”Never trust a man in a blue trenchcoat/ Never drive a car when you're dead!” Vocally this is probably closest to “Heartattack and Vine” or maybe “Mister Siegal”, but musically I can hear the likes of “Big Black Mariah” and indeed “Rain Dogs” itself.

An almost fifties rock-and-roll fusing with Country/folk takes us into the “Cold Cold Ground”, with a fine performance by David Hidalgo on the accordion and some hypnotic bass from Larry Taylor, while there's a whole lot of slow gospel in “Train Song”, almost coming back to the Small Change era. That would have been a great ending, with the tagline ”It was a train that took me away from here/ But a train can't bring me home” but Waits decided to throw another version of a song that is already on the album into the mix, and for my money the alternative version of “Innocent When You Dream” (it's not a bonus track; this is part of the album) is completely superfluous. I liked the original but this is just silly. A sad end to an album that could be a lot better.

TRACK LISTING

1. Hang on St. Christopher
2. Straight to the Top (Rhumba)
3. Blow Wind Blow
4. Temptation
5. Innocent When You Dream (Barroom)
6. I'll Be Gone
7. Yesterday is Here
8. Please Wake Me Up
9. Frank's Theme
10. More Than Rain
11. Way Down in the Hole
12. Straight to the Top (Vegas)
13. I'll Take New York
14. Telephone Call from Istanbul
15. Cold Cold Ground
16. Train Song
17. Innocent When You Dream (78)

There are a lot of things to recommend this album, but somehow it just doesn't do it for me. After colossi like Rain Dogs and Swordfishtrombones I was just expecting more, and whereas normally I might - might - point to one, maybe two tracks on a Waits album I'm not totally into, here I can easily count off at least six, and on an album with seventeen tracks overall that ain't good. I've listened to this a few times, not as many as other Waits albums, and when I make playlists it's one I take very few tracks from. It's not that I think it's a bad album, but it fails to give me the vibe I've got from every single one of his recordings prior, and to be completely honest, from here on in, with a few exceptions, I found much of his material quite inaccessible and disappointing. Not saying I hated every album from here, but it does make Rain Dogs for me a high watermark, leaving everything that came after - as I say, with a few notable exceptions - just slightly lacking.

Mind you, as I review them now I may start appreciating them more. Here's hoping. But for me anyway, Franks wild years just fails to reach the high standard Waits has set himself for, at this point, fourteen years, and the next twenty-plus would continue to test my faith in the man, occasionally proving it, more often than not though unfortunately straining it to often breaking point. I think the real problem with Waits, for me at any rate, is the expectation. Every album up to this has been top-drawer, and once you slip even slightly it really shows. This is a good album, even a very good album, but at this stage I'm a Waits purist and I want great, not good.

And this ain't great.

Rating: 7.2/10
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Old 12-15-2021, 10:17 PM   #32 (permalink)
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A 7.2...good god, why not just post a gif of you shooting the album?
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Old 12-16-2021, 06:16 AM   #33 (permalink)
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Don't like it much. What can I tell you?
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Old 12-17-2021, 08:54 AM   #34 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Trollheart View Post
Don't like it much. What can I tell you?
I'm just giving you a hard time. It's not his best work, admittedly.
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Old 12-30-2021, 01:12 AM   #35 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Trollheart View Post
This is one of the few discogs I will be working through chronologically, as I want to catalogue the artist's pretty interesting evolution through his long career.

Thomas Alan “Tom” Waits is a native of California. He was born there and he still lives there, though of course his musical career and life have taken him far and wide over nearly forty-five years. I'm not going to write a bio of him: if you've never heard him the chances are you've heard his songs sung by someone else, but if you really want to read about him, here :Tom Waits - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Without ever a single hit to his name, and though his albums are revered in many circles they are hardly what you'd call massive sellers, Waits has charted a course through music which has seen him earn the admiration of everyone from Springsteen to Crystal Gayle and The Eagles to Rod Stewart. Many people have had hit singles with his music, and it's been featured on both the big and small screen. Having recently celebrated his sixty-sixth birthday, he's still going strong and released an album in 2013, which surely is not the last we'll hear from him. His style is varied: he uses elements of blues, folk, jazz, vaudeville, island music, soul and rock, as well as other, less recognised music forms, and the number of instruments he employs is hard to determine, as he tends to often make his own, like banging chair legs on the floor or hitting pots and pans together.

But though he has wandered happily through such areas as experimental, jazz and folk music, Waits's music career began in a much more sedate manner, as his debut album, a quiet, understated affair that even then hinted at greatness to come, shows us. And this, of course, is where we begin our descent into the often madcap, exilhirating, sometimes frightening and frequently baffling, but always wonderful world of Tom Waits.


Closing Time (1973)

With characteristic laconic wit, Waits chooses words associated with endings for his beginning, and indeed there is also there the connotations linked with the pub and the tavern, which would become his shelter and his keeper for several years as he spiralled into an ever-worsening descent into alcoholism and substance abuse. There is nothing of the experimental work that would colour his later material here, but then, he was only twenty-four, and had yet to discover all the darkness the world had to offer. Even so, this doesn't read as an album written by a wide-eyed optimist or someone with their head in the clouds. As we'll see, Waits's feet were always firmly planted on the ground, if perhaps too often swinging from a barstool.

Counting in the song, and indeed marking the moment when, to all intents and purposes, his recording career began, its “One, two, three, four” as a song The Eagles would filch for their On the Border album, a situation of Waits would later growl “The Eagles ain't country. There's no shit on their boots!” kicks the album off. A slow, lazy piano which would become something of Waits's trademark sound takes “Ol' 55” in, and it is very country in feel and shape. You can see why Frey and Henley wanted it. But even as this could be seen as an ode to the car, (I'm not sure which one but I'm sure Big3 or some American will enlighten me) it is in fact used merely as a metaphor for escape, perhaps unwilling escape. When Waits sings ”Just a-wishin' I had stayed a little longer” you get the feeling he would rather have been back with his lover than riding away in his car, but there's a feeling of inevitability about it, a sense that all things come to an end, and when that happens, it's good to have a means of escape, perhaps even a getaway car.

It's a low-key, downbeat opening to the album, and it doesn't get much more upbeat really for much of it. Even at that, it's a bitterly lovely song as he growls ”The sun's comin' up/ I'm ridin' with Lady Luck/ Freeway cars and trucks.” There are some nice touches on the guitar but mostly it's very much a piano driven song, though I think that may be a celeste or a harmonium on the chorus; certainly both are used on the album. Another slow, bitter ballad then in “I Hope That I Don't Fall in Love With You”, this time an acoustic guitar song, as Waits fears falling for a woman he has met, knowing the pitfalls of romance. ”Had a beer and now I hear/ You callin' out for me” he drawls as " I wonder if I should offer you a chair?” It's the first example of a song that Waits would use to twist and warp the idea of a ballad, making love a dirty word and something to be avoided. In the end though, he capitulates as he sighs ”I think that I just/ Fell in love with you.” The song also contains the title of the album, although it does finish with a song so titled, an instrumental.

The first time the album takes an upswing it kicks off on the slow, lazy bass of Bill Plummer, then the piano evokes a kind of drunken stagger as swaggering trumpet from Delbert Bennett keeps its lonely vigil. “Virginia Avenue” is one of a number of songs which would reference local areas and places Waits knew of, frequented or visited, enshrining them forever in his music. Fun fact: this song also appears on The Early Years Vol 1 where it is slightly different. Where he sings ”What's a poor boy to do?” the original line is ”What's a poor sailor to do?” Thought you'd like to know. I'll remind you when we get to that album's review. Interesting look forward to the future too when he sings ”Blues I leave behind me/ Catchin' up on me.”

His first song not to include the title in the lyric, “Old Shoes (And Picture Postcards)” is also one of a selection of titles which would have footnotes in parentheses. A jaunty but yet slow acoustic guitar ballad with a lot of folk in it, it relates the decision to leave someone after what would appear to have been a long relationship. He sings ”So long, farewell/ The road calls me dear/ And your tears cannot bind me anymore.” One of the strengths of this album is that none of the songs are too long. Most come in around the three-minute mark, with one or two edging over four and one almost five, but that's the longest. It's just enough time to appreciate the song, let it sink in before it vanishes like an echo in your brain. Waits was, and is, a master of the art of using brevity. You'll find no ten-minute compositions in his music.

Another feature of his songs is that they usually concern or are built around characters, characters who are inevitably flawed. The man who leaves his clingy lover in the above song, the guy who walks along Virginia Avenue looking for a bar and of course the fellow who hops into his “Ol' 55” and hightails it out of town. These characters and personages make his songs more real somehow, and for me at any rate have enabled them to speak to me; not that I know anything about being drunk and wandering the streets at 3am (!), but the very flaws of his characters, their shortcomings is in my view what makes them real, and relatable, and that much more powerful for being pathetic. We can identify with them. We know them, or someone like them. Perhaps we are, or were, them. But we see through their eyes and hear through their ears, and the world we see is a different one than our own eyes show us. It's a damp, squalid, dark, threatening and unforgiving one, where every shadow could contain an attacker, or someone wanting to rob us of our bottle, and every friend must be searched for a knife, just in case. The milk of human kindness has soured for these people, if it was ever fresh, and as we journey on with them through Waits's albums we will get to know the world they inhabit.

Another thing Waits would often do is build his songs around nursery rhymes, or incorporate parts of them in the lyric, as here, when “Midnight Lullaby” begins with the words ”Sing a song of sixpence/ A pocket full of rye”. Acoustic piano is attended by trumpet as the song moves along on a nice, swaying sort of rhythm, and Waits muses ”When you are dreaming/ You see for miles and miles.” The song ends with a piano rendition of “Hush Little Baby”, another nod to the world of children's stories and rhymes, appropriate as this appears to concern him talking to his child.

I don't want to rag on him on his first outing, but for me this is where the album's quality begins to dip slightly. I do like “Martha”, but I feel the piano is a little harsh here, though the cello from Jesse Ehrlich in the chorus certainly saves the song. Still, I regard it as one of the weaker tracks on the album, despite the reflective nature of the song as a guy telephones his old lover out of the blue to recall the old times. It also ends badly, I feel. “Rosie” then is another piano-driven track, though the piano is much softer and gentler this time. The melody is a little reminiscent of “Virginia Avenue” and returns to the Country feel of “Ol' 55” with some fine pedal steel from Peter Klimes, and the subject matter is somewhat similar, then what I would call a lower grade trio of songs comes to a shuddering end with “Lonely”.

Possibly, in my estimation, one of Waits's worst early songs, it's again driven by piano, but the vocal this time I find very harsh, and the lyric mostly consists of the title. It just seems like something that, were there other tracks considered for and dropped from the album, should have joined them. I really don't like this song, and it's seldom I would skip any Waits song but I often do jump over this one. Luckily the album then rallies strongly, as if eager to throw off the somewhat cloying influence of the last three tracks, as “Ice Cream Man” is only the second upbeat track, where Waits first reveals his wicked sense of humour. Sexual innuendo follows sexual innuendo as he smirks ”Got a big stick momma/ That'll blow your mind” and goes on to assure the lady ”When you're tired and you're hungry/ And you want something cool/ Got something better than a swimmin' pool!” There's a boppy, jazzy, almost big band rhythm driven by some fine basswork and soaring guitar. He even starts and ends the song with the sound of an ice cream van's chimes! Oh Waits, you devil!

And we're back on track. “Little Trip to Heaven (On the Wings of Your Love)” is a fine laidback ballad with smooth trumpet and flowing piano, its melody recalling in part “Midnight Lullaby”, Bennet really excelling here on the brass. “Grapefruit Moon” is the final vocal track, piano again taking centre stage with some very prominent bass, some of the runs on the piano again nodding back to “Virginia Avenue”, and indeed presaging the later “On the Nickel”, and Ehrlich returns to add some lovely cello. Waits echoes the thoughts of us all on certain songs when he sings ”Every time I hear that melody/ Something breaks inside” before a beautiful duet between piano and cello sets the seal on a sumptuous almost-closer. We end then on the title track, and only instrumental, the only words being a muttered “This is for posterity” from Waits at the beginning. The tune is taken by a lazy, almost reflective piano and some lovely harmonica, taking us out in fine style and bringing the album to a soft and relaxing close.

TRACK LISTING

1. Ol' 55
2. I Hope That I Don't Fall in Love With You
3. Virginia Avenue
4. Old Shoes (And Picture Postcards)
5. Midnight Lullaby
6. Martha
7. Rosie
8. Lonely
9. Ice Cream Man
10. Little Trip to Heaven (On the Wings of Your Love)
11. Grapefruit Moon
12. Closing Time

Some debut albums set the charts on fire, some receive critical acclaim, and some just vanish like ripples in a pond. But still waters run deep, and though this initial effort from Tom Waits did not exactly make headline news across the world and introduce a star, he had made his mark quietly and almost unobtrusively, and while the world may not have been watching and listening, the music fraternity was. As mentioned, The Eagles, making their name at this time, were impressed enough by the new songwriter to cover one of his songs, and later Bette Midler herself would cover “Martha”, while Meat Loaf would put a rendition of the same song on his 1995 album.

As time went on, Waits became the go-to guy, the musician's musician, and his refusal to go with the flow, his willingness, even eagerness to buck trends - he once said “I slept through the sixties” - would mark him as both a maverick and a stone cold music genius, as well as often one of the only honest musicians left in a world of synthpop, X-Factor and sell-outs. His trademark gravelly voice was as yet still to develop, and would only really come into its own on his third album, Small Change, when he would really come to the attention of everyone. Taken as an album in its own right, this is a pleasant, if often bitter, country/folk outing, with some extremely clever at time lyrics. But beyond that, it was setting down a marker, a new singer/songwriter honing his considerable talent and placing his bet down on the table, a bet that would pretty much always reap him large and profitable dividends, at least musically if not always financially.

“Closing time” made one simple but undeniable statement: Tom Waits had arrived. If the world didn't get it, at that time, hell, that was the world's problem. It would, soon enough.

Rating: 8.2/10
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Old 12-30-2021, 08:47 PM   #36 (permalink)
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You're welcome. Are you a Waits fan?
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Old 01-13-2022, 08:05 PM   #37 (permalink)
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One of the longest hiatuses in Waits's career, five years would elapse between his last album and his next, but he would make up for that by producing two albums in 1992, one of which was a studio album that would go on to develop his interest in experimental music and lead to some amazing songs. The other, well, wasn't.



Bone Machine (1992)

Though I'm a big Waits fan, there are some of his albums that speak to me less than others. I really can't stand The Black Rider and could never quite get into Alice or Blood Money.This one, while not one of my favourites, still has a lot going for it and tends often to get overlooked when we talk of his music. The thing about Waits is that, to quote half of that pointless Forrest Gump phrase (of course you know what you're gonna get in a box of chocolates: most of them have little cards that tell you what's in each, at least over here they do) you never quite know what you're going to get with Waits. In some ways, that's what makes him so interesting and intriguing. He can play the most beautiful, heartbreaking piano ballad one track and quite literally spend the next one banging a chair leg against the wall while growling and then switch to a Spanish flamenco for the next. If any artist truly crosses most genres, it's Tom Waits.

Hell, crosses them? He goes over and back so often he knows all the border guards by name, and their kids and their pets!

So what do you get on Bone Machine? Well, you get, as Imentioned above, his first studio album for five years, and the first so far as I can see (and possibly the only) of his albums to win a Grammy, not that such things matter much to Waits I imagine. You get an album with sixteen tracks, varying from dark ruminations on murder to the innocence of youth, and featuring everything from a soft heartbroken whisper to a maniacal, ear-shattering scream. It's the latter we hear first, as the album opens on "Earth Died Screaming", that odd, organic percussion familiar to his fans the first thing you hear, then Waits grumbles the opening lyric before he screeches out the chorus as the strange almost discordant music that sounds like someone might be clapping and tapping the sides of beer bottles continues, the only really discernible instrument a plucked guitar that keeps the basic melody together. Waits' lyrics have always been colourful: here he talks about walking between the raindrops and growls "When Hell doesn't want you/ And Heaven is full/ Bring me some water/ Put it in this skull" --- this theme will return later in another song. As this one fades out though all the percussion is turned down and the melody taken by a sudden accordion sound with maybe trumpets and trombones? Hard to say with Waits.

I also like the lyric (well, it's the chorus, such as there is one) where he screeches "The Earth died screaming while I lay dreaming", which for me calls to mind a laconic comment he once made when he shrugged that he "slept through the sixties", the implication clearly being that he charted his own course, being not at all influenced by the music of the "summer of love" (though in fact he would have only been in his teens anyway) and here it's like Waits sleeps through the destruction of our planet. Hey, the Earth can go to hell: Waits is tryin' to take a nap, y'know? Keep it down out there, buddy!

There's a big doomy, funereal sound then for "Dirt in the Ground", with Waits utilising his falsetto vocal here - it's pretty amazing how he can switch from bassy baritone to alto soprano or whatever at the drop of a hat - and the song has a sort of lurching, drunken feel, a mixture of New Orleans funeral jazz (hey did I just invent a new music genre?) and gospel with again the theme returning - "Hell's boilin' over/ Heaven is full" - slow jazz horns taking the tune while a lonely piano plays in the background, Waits the solitary drunken prophet slurring in the wilderness. The horns then get all uptempo and are joined by guitar for the far more upbeat and a bit crazy "Such a Scream", with Waits going back to the harsh, growly drawl he's best known for. He does a great job on the guitar too, while the percussion manages to sound at times both organic and electronic at once. Things stay a bit madcap then for "All Stripped Down", Waits' voice taking on a sort of mechanical, robotic feel while also bringing back the falsetto to such a degree that it almost (almost) sounds like he's duetting with a female!

The first of several ballads next, in the country-flavoured "Who Are You", with a distinct memory of "Hang Down Your Head" from Rain Dogs and then "The Ocean Doesn't Want Me" (which was previously featured in my journal under the section "The Word According to Waits) is about as barebones as you can get, with ambient instrumentation to the max, Waits' voice almost a guttural whisper as he appears to contemplate suicide - "I'd love to go drowning/ And to stay and to stay/ But the ocean doesn't want me today" - but can't go through with it. There are wind sounds, low, muted percussion, bells and chimes and a real feeling of desolation and feeling alone. In its own way it's a scary, unsettling little piece, somewhat later echoed in "What's He Building?", even though it lasts less than two minutes. There's little time to dwell upon it though, because "Jesus Gonna Be Here", we're told, as Waits goes all evangelical with a big screeching vocal and something out of a gospel performance from the local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous. A great twanging guitar from Larry Taylor supplements the double bass played by Waits, again the crazy preacher we met in "Dirt in the Ground".

Another standout is next, and indeed another ballad, in the superlative "A Little Rain", with that oft-used chiming piano and the vocal used by Waits to great effect on albums like The Heart of Saturday Night and Nighthawks at the Diner. I've theorised about the meaning of the lyric until I've given myself a headache, but I still can't pin down what's happening here. It does seem to concern a girl who went missing, and her father's efforts to track her down, as signified by the lines "She was fifteen years old/ And she'd never seen the ocean/ She climbed into a van/ With a vagabond/ And the last thing she said/ Was "I love you mom", the tune nicely countrified by pedal steel guitar. Back to that mechanical sounding voice and almost industrial rock music with "In the Colosseum", pounding, manic drumming and more great double bass from Taylor, and things stay fairly hectic for the next few songs, with "Goin' Out West" great fun, staring off with an almost Peter Gunn-style guitar. Supermassive percussion thunders in and it rocks along at a fine pace while "Murder in the Red Barn" is a slower, more menacing song with some great banjo work from Joe Marquez and a squawking vocal from Waits, the percussion almost like someone tripping over the kit.

Another standout in "Black Wings", with a great example of how strange, weird and wonderful characters people many of Waits's songs, and he weaves stories - real or imagined - around them, this one being a mysterious stranger who can claim that "He's been seen at the table with kings" and "Once saved a baby from drowning" but that "One look in his eyes/ And everyone denies/ Ever having met him." With a great keyboard line and a melody almost out of one of those old Western movies, it's driven by a low, growling vocal from Waits as he relates the story of the legendary stranger, who is never named or referred to other than as "he" or "him". A real example of Waits's storytelling talent. Of course, credit must also be given to his wife, Kathleen Brennan, who co-writes half the songs here with him, and this is one of the ones on which they collaborate. The last ballad is another piano one, with Waits again in his persona of drunk at the keyboard crying into his whiskey, his voice strong and powerful and laced with anger and regret, the pedal steel adding a sense of pathos to "Whistle Down the Wind", then "I Don't Wanna Grow Up" is pure childlike fun, as Waits kicks, stamps and bashes his way through the tune with gleeful abandon.

There's a tiny little instrumental, less than a minute before we close on "That Feel", the only song on the album not written by him solo or with Kathleen. On this he joins forces with the Stones' legendary Keith Richards, and it has quite a Stones feel to it in its slow, almost haphazard bar-room atmosphere. Keef plays guitar of course and also adds backing vocals to the song. It's a little downbeat for a closer, not one of my favourites, but not a bad track especially on repeated listens, and it certainly gives you an idea of the sort of thing maybe Waits might indulge in after a recording session.

TRACK LISTING


1. Earth Died Screaming
2. Dirt in the Ground
3. Such a Scream
4. All Stripped Down
5. Who Are You
6. The Ocean Doesn't Want Me
7. Jesus Gonna Be Here
8. A Little Rain
9. In the Colosseum
10. Goin' Out West
11. Murder in the Red Barn
12. Black Wings
13. Whistle Down the Wind
14. I Don't Wanna Grow Up
15. Let Me Get Up On It
16. That Feel

There's probably no such thing as a bad Waits record, and this certainly does not fall into that category at all, but compared to gems like The Heart of Saturday Night, Rain Dogs, Blue Valentine and Small Change it tends to fall a little short more often than it hits the mark in my book. Of course, with sixteen (okay, really fifteen: the tiny instrumental that almost closes it is not really worthy of being called a track) songs on it keeping up the rock-solid quality we've come to expect from Waits would be hard, and some of the songs are not as good as others. But then, some of them are truly excellent, and there are few if any on the album I would consider weak at all, just some that are perhaps not as strong as others.

I'm delighted he won a Grammy, at last, with this album and if you look back over the chart performance of Tom Waits albums you'll see with possible depression that they have rarely if ever troubled the upper echelons. In recent times, they've done better with 2011's Bad As Me breaking the top ten in both the US and UK, but that's only a tiny part of the story. Waits isn't about hit singles - don't think he's ever had one - or big album sales (though of course he's gotta eat. And drink. And smoke.) - he's more your performance artist who in another century would be unappreciated in his own lifetime and die a pauper, finding fame and a place in history only after he was long dead. Thank goodness that's not the case these days; even those who don't know of him or own any of his albums will have heard at least one of his songs, if only being covered by someone else. Springsteen's "Jersey Girl"? That's Waits. Rod Stewart's "Downtown Train". Yup, him again. Even Steve Earle's critically-acclaimed "Way Down in the Hole", from the TV series The Wire, is a Waits original. In fact, on one of the seasons they use his version as the theme.

Mad, bad and dangerous to know? Perhaps. A Mozart for our times? Quite possibly. The best album Waits has recorded? Not by a long way, but the worst? Worst? How do you attribute that word to this man's music? It's just, well, it just doesn't fit, ya know? Even Waits' weakest compositions kick the ass of most other bands, steal their lunch money and send 'em cryin' home to mama!

Rating: 9.2/10
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Old 01-15-2022, 11:24 PM   #38 (permalink)
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Bone Machine took me a while to appreciate, but as time went on I've learned to love these tracks more than better albums. Maybe that's it for me. Bone Machines good songs are better than other albums good songs, but what I don't like I skip.

1. Earth Died Screaming
2. Dirt in the Ground
6. The Ocean Doesn't Want Me
7. Jesus Gonna Be Here
9. In the Colosseum
10. Goin' Out West
11. Murder in the Red Barn
12. Black Wings
14. I Don't Wanna Grow Up

These 9 are crushers. The other 5 - less so.
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Old 01-16-2022, 10:24 AM   #39 (permalink)
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You don't rate "A Little Rain"? One of the best on it, for me.
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Old 01-16-2022, 10:22 PM   #40 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Trollheart View Post
You don't rate "A Little Rain"? One of the best on it, for me.
I'll try it again, just for you
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