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Old 02-02-2022, 02:38 PM   #41 (permalink)
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The other album released by Waits in 1992 would be his second movie soundtrack, though this one would be mostly instrumental. Having worked with director Jim Jarmusch on Down by Law, Waits hooked up with him again to score the movie Night on Earth, about five different taxi drivers and their passengers in five different cities on the same night. Kathleen had, again, some small input into this album, though she had obviously acquired a taste for songwriting, which she would carry later into the writing of Bone Machine, on which you can certainly hear her love of Beefheart begin to really take hold, and to exert its power over her husband.

Night On Earth Original Soundtrack (1992)

It gets underway with a very “Singapore”-like track, with congas and accordion, slow in the vein of “More Than Rain” but with that sort of cracked, growly voice Waits had adopted since Franks Wild Years. “Back in the Good Old World” starts the album off well, and is one of only three vocal tracks as we move into “Los Angeles Mood (Chromium Descensions)”, with marimba and cello trailing along the sides of the track like drunks carefully navigating their way along a sidestreet, feedback shooting back like the glaring headlights of cars that narrowly miss them on their inebriated stroll. It's a slow, almost heartbeat rhythm that drives the piece, with some wailing guitar added in, while the companion piece, “Los Angeles Theme (Another Private Dick)” runs on smoky lonely sax from that right into a sort of Peter Gunn idea, with rockabilly guitar and horn. It shuffles along nicely as the guitar and sax trade licks like two gangsters trying to outboast each other.

You can hear moods from Rain Dogs and Franks Wild Years go off here and there, and I'd wonder if some of this music was not written during those sessions but never used? “New York Theme (Hey, You Can Have That Heart Attack Outside Buddy)” switches things up with a piano lead yet retaining the basic melody of the previous track, quite a honky-tonk idea in the music, sax still there but somehow it's more upmarket in a way yet sleazy too. Great bassline, like the one from “Diamonds On My Windshield” but slightly slower. This of course then gives way to “New York Mood (New Haircut and a Busted Lip)” which takes the theme but slows it right down, removing the piano and allowing the sax to take centre stage as the bass follows along.

There's a big, crunching, striding swing melody then for “Baby, I'm Not a Baby Anymore (Beatrice Theme)” with some banjo but driven on the alto sax of Ralph Carney, who plays a hell of a lot of instruments on this album. “Good Old World (Waltz)” is exactly that, a slow waltzing rhythm driven on accordion and violin that circles around like two dancers oblivious to everything around them, then “Carnival (Brunello del Montalcino)” kind of takes that basic melody and puts a ragtime spin on it, throwing in organ and strange horn sounds as well as odd percussion in that way Waits does so well. The second vocal track is next, as Waits croaks his way through a rather tender and French-tinged “On the Other Side of the World”. There's been so much instrumental music at this point that the first time you hear him sing again it comes as something of a surprise, but of course a pleasant one. Some great minimalistic banjo here from Joe Gore, to say nothing of Carney's sublime clarinet work.

There's another version of “Back in the Good Old World”, this time an instrumental, possibly a little indulgent though it is a great song, and then we're travelling again with “Paris Mood (Un de fromage)” which kind of tippy-toes around the main theme with really less French flavour about it than some of the other tracks, despite the accordion used, but my favourite on the album, certainly title-wise, is “Dragging a Dead Priest”: the images it conjures up! Musically, it has that great screeching, scratching sound that, yeah, does give the impression of someone hauling a heavy weight through the streets. Very atonal and some cool off-kilter percussion really makes this track stand out I feel. Sort of a moan in there for good measure (hey buddy, you sure this priest is dead?) then “Helsinki Mood” skitters along as if hoping not to be seen, the same basic theme again running through the music, which is fine I guess as they're all supposed to relate to one another.

“Carnival Bob's Confession” has a nice uptempo feel to it and steps away from the main theme, with some cool horns and crashing drums again a la “Singapore”. Climbing violins really help as does some accordion and some other weird instruments I'm not even going to try to identify. We then get a vocal version of “Good Old World (Waltz)”, and it's quite nice to hear it. Reversing that, then, the album closes with an instrumental version of “On the Other Side of the World”.

TRACKLISTING

1. Back in the Good Old World (Gypsy)
2. Los Angeles Mood (Chromium Descensions)
3. Los Angeles theme (Another private dick)
4. New York Mood (Hey, You Can Have That Heart Attack outside Buddy)
5. New York Theme (A New Haircut and a Busted Lip)
6. Baby, I'm not a baby anymore (Beatrice Theme)
7. Good Old World (Waltz)
8. Carnival (Brunello del Montalcino
9. On the Other Side of the World
10. Good Old World (Gypsy Instrumental)
11. Paris Mood (Un de fromage)
12. Dragging a Dead Priest
13. Helsinki Mood
14. Carnival Bob's Confession
15. Good Old World (Waltz)
16. On the Other Side of the World

It's been a while since I listened to this album, and I must say I find that it has a lot of flaws. While the music is great, so much of it is merely variations on a central theme that it's easy to get the tracks confused. I know that's because of the nature of the movie, where each story crosses over into the other and all end up intertwined into one great tapestry, but I feel this doesn't give Waits the freedom to be as versatile as he normally is. I wouldn't go so far as to say that once you've heard one track on this album you've heard them all, but in some cases - far too many - it does seem as if he's just repeating himself, altering the melody slightly or adding things in, but basically sticking to the one general tune.

There are exceptions of course. “Dragging a Dead Priest” is nothing like anything else on the album, and “Carnival Bob's Confession” stands out on its own, but much of the rest can be almost lumped together as one melody, and that's a pity, because while Waits does infuse certain pieces that refer to cities with something that makes it their own, identifies with it - New York with the bar piano, Paris with the accordion, etc. - it's a little cliched, a little expected, and one thing we have learned about Waits is that he usually shies from the usual, the typical, and surprises us at every turn.

Although it's a soundtrack album, and can be given something of a pass because of that, it's still miles behind One From the Heart, which was a much more varied and interesting album. Less than six months later he would enter the studio again and record a real Waits album, that would reaffirm his delight in confounding, thrilling and surprising us, and though this is a good soundtrack it would soon be forgotten in the wake of the release of Bone Machine, as it should be.

Rating: 7.0/10

Here: you might as well have the whole thing. It's pretty much all the same, with a few exceptions.
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Old 02-02-2022, 03:14 PM   #42 (permalink)
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If I'm doing double entries on all other discographies to make up for being away from them for so long, it only makes sense that I do the same here. However, as we're now tackling two sort of in-between albums of hits as it were, I feel I may as well get both done now. So, as usual, Waits goes his own way, and perhaps like Trump, where everyone else gets two scoops, he gets three.

Unlike Trump though, he deserves to be treated differently. And so we will do so. Although both of these albums contain songs that have been released before, they are not simply greatest hits packages, as we will see.

The Early Years, Volume 1 (1991)

Although released in 1991, the songs on this album were in fact all recorded prior to the release of his debut in 1973. Some of them appear on that album, some on the second, but there are songs here too that never saw the light of day until now. It kicks off with “Goin’ Down Slow”, a lazy, laconic almost folk ballad played on acoustic guitar with some fine steel too. It’s typical of the kind of thing you’’d find on Closing Time, a song that sounds like it was just written as he waited for someone or for the day to end, or his glass to be refilled. Without a band at this point, Waits plays all the instruments here himself, and yet makes the album sound less acoustic than you would expect. “Poncho’s Lament” is another country/folk style swinging ballad with the great line ”I’m glad that you’re gone/ But I wish to the lord that you’d come home.”


His voice sounds less ragged and growly than it would later become, and the slightly embarrassed cough at the end, left on deliberately one must assume, really reinforces the idea of a man writing up his demo before trying for an album deal. The first song though that really shows the talent Waits would become famous for is “I’m Your Late Night Evening Prostitute”, where he considers the idea I guess of whoring out his music. It’s driven on soulful piano that would resurface in part on “A Sight for Sore Eyes” on the Foreign Affairs album. When he sings ”Drink your Martini and stare at the moon/ Don’t mind me: I’ll continue to croon” he’s singing for all the pianists and guitar players in bars and clubs who pour their souls out to an uncaring crowd and receive perhaps a smattering of applause if they’re lucky. Again, he would revisit this idea, though instrumentally only, on “In Shades”, nine years later on Heartattack and Vine. Back to Country slow bopping with the pretty hilarious “Had Me a Girl”, in which he lists all the places he’s visited and had romantic interludes: ”Had me a girl from France/ Just wanted to get in her pants” and "Had me a girl from Chula Vista/ I was in love with her sister.” I particularly love the idea at the end, when he runs out of ideas or just doesn’t care and sings ”I had me a girl from … mm. Mm.mm mm mm mm…” Classic!

Next we have the first of the songs that actually made it onto his debut, as we hear a stripped down version of “Ice Cream Nan”, pretty much the same melody but somewhat slower, played on the piano and guitar. “Rockin’ Chair” is another lazy ballad on acoustic guitar, kind of Delta blues feel to it, kinda sounds like it would have worked well on Nighthawks. “Virginia Avenue” is a slower version of the song which appears on Closing Time and as I mentioned earlier, a slight change in the lyrics makes ”What’s a poor boy to do” into ”What’s a poor sailor to do”, other than that it’s pretty much the same song. It’s followed then by “Midnight Lullaby”, which again is little different to the song that ended up on his debut.

“When You Ain’t Got Nobody” is a new song, as such, though, and highlights his cynical attitude towards life but shot through with the humour that would become his trademark. ”When you ain’t got nobody/ Anybody looks nice” he opines. ”Doesn’t take much to make you/ Stop and look twice.” Another piano solo piece, another slow song and one that could really have been a classic had he included it on the album. I love the almost-shocking ”I’ll be your Dick honey/ If you’ll just be my Jane.” People under a certain age won’t get that, but I smiled. Back to the early versions of songs that made it onto Closing Time with a slightly barebones “Little Trip to Heaven (On the Wings of Your Love)”, the lounge/bar-room idea filtering in here nicely; the whistled verse is nice. Maybe he couldn’t think of any more lyrics but it gives the song some new life and a personal touch. I think on the finished version there’s a sax solo there?

A man who would appear in later songs, and inform a full album, “Frank’s Song” is the first we hear of him, whether he’s the same one we are introduced to later or not I don’t know, but Waits here approaches the whole idea of marriage as he does on Nighthawks as he declares ”We used to go stag/ Now he’s got a hag.” It’s a short, acoustic ballad which leads into one of the best on the album, the hilarious “Looks Like I’m Up Shit Creek Again”, with a slow Country flavour that ticks along really nicely and presages the likes of “Ol’ 55” and “Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love With You”, perhaps why he didn’t include it. Certainly wouldn’t have got any radio airplay! I love it though; it just drips self-pity and recrimination. The album ends on “So Long I’ll See Ya”, showing the beginnings of the guitar style he would develop and the vocal slightly more loud and a little manic, pointing the direction he would go in over the years. It also features some of the scat singing he would use in the, um, early years.

TRACK LISTING

* indicates song later included on another album

1.Goin’ Down Slow
2.Poncho’s Lament
3.I’m Your Late Night Evening Prostitute
4.Had Me a Girl
5.Ice Cream Man*
6.Rockin’ Chair
7.Virginia Avenue*
8.Midnight Lullaby*
9.When You Ain’t Got Nobody
10.Little Trip to Heaven (On the Wings of Your Love)*
11.Frank’s Song
12.Looks Like I’m Up Shit Creek Again
13.So Long I’ll See Ya

You could say this is bad value for money, seeing as four of the thirteen tracks on it are ones you would by now have already heard - that’s a third of the album - but although those four songs are not really sufficiently different from the final versions to really merit inclusion, the other songs are all new and this album opens an interesting and unique window into the thought and songwriting processes of a man who was at the time struggling to find his voice and make a name for himself. So historically at least, this is an album that any Waits fan should really want to hear.

Rating: 8.0/10
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Old 02-02-2022, 03:26 PM   #43 (permalink)
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The second album in this series would be released two years later, but about six months before his next album, and would contain songs that not only would feature on Closing Time but the followup to that also. Like volume one though, it also has a lot of tracks that are new at first listen, again recorded around 1971, before he even had a record deal.

The Early Years, Volume 2 (1993)

The first two tracks we know, as they’re both on the debut, though “I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love With You” is played slower but somehow sung a little faster than the version that would end up on the album, sort of more relaxed. He also hums some of the lines, probably having not quite worked out all the lyric at that point. The version of “Ol’ 55” is quite different though with a folky guitar intro, unaccompanied by any percussion, the vocal more low-key, chords a little different. Nice soft guitar solo too. Definitely worth hearing. He also gets the lines mixed up when he sings ”Lights all passing/ Trucks are a flashin’” which makes it all the more honest and demo-like.

“Mockin’ Bird” is a song I’ve never heard though, and brings in the chimy. echoey piano we would become so familiar with during the early part of his career. More whistling, with a song the most uptempo on the album so far, quite bouncy and almost poppy in its way, while “In Between Love” slows it all down again with an acoustic ballad on guitar, but “Blue Skies” is really just retreading the ground trod on “I’m Your Late Night Evening Prostitute” and, to a smaller extent, “Goin’ Down Slow”. It’s something of a disappointment for an artiste of Waits’s calibre and originality to find that he is here plundering the same basic melody for a different song. But he does it so seldom, if ever other than here, that I guess we can forgive him. The only song that made it on to [i]Nighthawks at the Diner/i], “Nobody” is here sung pretty much the same as it is on that incredible "live" event, piano backed and with a sad, drawly vocal from Waits.

With a sort of Simon and Garfunkel pop sensibility, “I Want You” is a decent little song but a little below par for Waits, not a lot in it;, it’s quite short too. The next four tracks are all from his second album, and I must say the version of “Shiver Me Timbers” is worth hearing for the different way he approaches it, none of the laidback piano - this is far more staccato - and no orchestra of course, then “Grapefruit Moon”, never one of my favourite songs on The Heart of Saturday Night is pretty much a carbon copy of the eventual version that was published, minus the descending end run on the piano, which is weird because it ended up being such an integral part of the song. I’m interested to see how the original “Diamonds On My Windshield” sounded, as this is the first time I have heard this album, and I feel that song rides so much on the bassline it will be hard to duplicate in this stripped-down demo.

Well he does a good bass on it, the vocal kind of more uptempo jazz than it turned out, a sort of muttered one on the album. Bringing the piano in on it is something different for certain, but I don’t think it really works and I guess he came to the same conclusion as it’s not on the “real” version. Think he may have added lyrics here, not completely sure but then Waits can write on the fly, we all know that. The last song then off The Heart of Saturday Night is “Please Call Me Baby”, a bit rough and ready on the piano but basically the same song, though the orchestral backing on the final version turn out to be what makes the song in the end.


That leaves two tracks, and I feel that one of them may be yet another off Closing time but we’ll see shortly. The penultimate track is “So it Goes”, nice little folky acoustic ballad, kind of reminds me of later Steve Earle, echoes of “Halo Round the Moon”. And I was right: the final track is called “Old Shoes” but became “Old Shoes (And Picture Postcards”) on the debut, and to be fair there’s not much difference in the version here and the one that ended up on his album.

TRACK LISTING

1.Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love With You
2.Ol’ 55
3.Mockin’ Bird
4.In Between Love
5.Blue Skies
6.Nobody
7.I Want You
8.Shiver Me Timbers
9.Grapefruit Moon
10.Diamonds On My Windshield
11.Please Call Me Baby
12.So it Goes
13.Old Shoes

If what I said about volume one being poor value for money, viewed from one perception, is true, then this second volume really rips the buyer off. No less than eight tracks are “old” songs, more than half the album. Some of the originals are worth hearing, some are not, and as for the new songs, well I’m sorry to say that generally they’re a poor lot really. I certainly prefer volume one, but even at that, the two albums taken together give a real snapshot of a man on the cusp of greatness, of a master songsmith honing his trade and finding his place, and show us the kind of musician, and the eventual enigma and phenomenon Tom Waits was going to become.

Rating: 7.0/10
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Old 03-03-2022, 11:08 AM   #44 (permalink)
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I guess it’s no longer possible to avoid this. 1993 began a trio of albums that made me really strain to keep liking Waits. I’m not alone: many people consider this his weakest period. Perhaps the stress of bringing out two albums in the same year, on the same month, on the same fucking day told on him, and although that was 2002 I believe the rot, as it were, set in here at the end of ‘93. Mind you, there was a bright spot just before the millennium closed, but more of that later. Right now it’s time to gird my loins, take a deep breath and dive into what is unquestionably my least favourite of any Tom Waits albums.


The Black Rider --- 1993

Maybe it’s something to do with plays. Franks Wild Years was, as I have already related, the first Waits album I wasn’t head over heels in love with, and that was based on a play. So too is this, and the two I mentioned in 2002. It could be coincidence but I wonder. Anyway I found this album extremely inaccessible when I first heard it, but to be fair I only remember listening to it once, so maybe time will have softened my attitude towards it. Maybe I’ll get it. Or not.

Based on the play of the same name written by William S. Burroughs, the album is the soundtrack to the life of a man who chooses to make a pact with the Devil but is outwitted by him in the end, as are all mortals, and he ends up going mad. You can check out the full story here The Black Rider - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia if you wish. It’s another long album, with twenty tracks in all, though some are quite short, a few just over one minute. Interestingly, after her almost total collaboration with him on Bone machine, Kathleen Brennan is conspicuously absent from the songwriting here.

We open on “Lucky Day Overture”, Waits bellowing as a carnival barker against a slow brass waltz background, quite FWY in theme. No singing at all; Waits shouts the vocal completely with a wild abandon I haven’t heard since “Going Out West", and the old-style carnival atmosphere is reinforced by his use of a calliope, then we’re into the title track, which has Waits sound like a German or something (not surprisingly: this is based on a German folk tale after all) against a Rain Dogs style rhythm driven mostly on organ. Some of Waits’s old faithful return for this album, such as Joe Gore, Ralph Carney and here, Greg Cohen who does a superb viola. “November” opens in saw (yeah I said saw) and accordion, then we hear for the first time on this album the voice we all know so well, dark broken and morose as the accordion plays out its sad tale. Some really great banjo from Waits adds to the feel here, as does the saw, which sounds like the whistling moan of a soul haunting the song.

“Just the Right Bullets” staggers along on a threatening, compelling melody as Pegleg, the Devil makes his entrance and the bargain is sealed, as is the hero’s fate, did he but know it. Suddenly it all goes into overdrive with a fast western-style theme, galloping along in a “Ghost Riders in the Sky” sort of idea till it slows back again with echoes of Franks Wild Years then speeds up for the frenetic conclusion. A spooky chamberlin and Doug Neely returning on the saw colours “Black Box Theme”, the first instrumental (if you don’t count the opener, which had plenty of vocals if not singing), cello, bassoon, French horn and banjo all adding to the weirdness. A slow, haunting little piece, perhaps underlying the pact just agreed, then on of the few covers Waits ever did comes in the shape of a totally out-there version of “Tain’t No Sin”; it’s really quite unsettling. No percussion at all, just clarinet and a synth; marimba is mentioned but I don’t hear it.

“Flash Pan Hunter/Intro” is another short instrumental with very much a stately, funereal sound, contrabassoon and clarinet merging with the sounds of seagulls overhead, a real dirge, then Waits and Burroughs collaborate on “That’s the Way”, with a dark organ motif and an almost spoken vocal from Waits. It runs directly into “The Briar and the Rose”, whose music reminds me of something off I think One from the Heart, but I can’t quite place it. A slow, ragged ballad, the kind Waits excels at, while “Russian Dance” is, well, a Russian dance with Waits’s inimitable touch. It’s good fun but at over three minutes it’s way too long. Another instrumental is next, this being “Gospel Train/Orchestra”, which oddly enough does not seem to involve Waits at all, if the credits are to be believed. If so, it may be unique in all of his work.

Kind of reminds me of a slower version of “Bride of Rain Dog”, bits of “Singapore” mixed in and led on a thumping trombone. I can’t believe Waits didn’t play on this. They must just have missed his credit out. More Franks Wild Years style for “I’ll Shoot the Moon”, a Country-flavoured waltzy ballad, quite nice, then there’s another teamup with Burroughs as he writes the lyric for “Flash Pan Hunter”, more of that spooky saw from Neely and some fine organ from Francis Thumm, with again a sort of crying chant like we heard on FWY. Back to that sort of western/Country rhythm for “Crossroads”, while “Gospel Train” is just weird. Look, I know weird is Waits’s middle name, but this is weird. Almost the same musical phrase going all the way through, and I think he’s quoting part of Curtis Mayfield’s “People get ready” in there. Plus there are train whistles. Yeah.

At almost five minutes though it quickly wears out its welcome and after an eighteen-second “Interlude” we’re into “Oily Night”, which seems not to feature Waits himself either. It’s got the deepest vocal, almost death metal in a way, and surely that has to be Waits? Other than that it’s like someone scraping a paintstripper off a wall or something. Pretty unnerving. Frownland would probably love it. Again it’s way, way too long, but we’re getting near the end now, and I have to say I’m still glad this is the case. Much better though is “Lucky Day” which again has the “Frank” vocal and a swaying carnival rhythm, reminds me very much of “Innocent When You Dream”. I’d actually pick this as my favourite on the album, though that’s not hard as I pretty much dislike most of it anyway.

It’s just Waits and Greg Cohen to close out the album then, with first the ballad “The Last Rose of Summer” and then a short instrumental, “Carnival”, as our hero ends up in the Devil’s Carnival, having lost his mind after shooting his bride to be. Suitably manic and frenetic, it ends the album more or less as it began, at the fairground, though this time a dark, evil, malevolent one from which there is no escape. Somewhat like this album.

TRACK LISTING


1.Lucky Day Overture
2.The Black Rider
3.November
4.Just the Right Bullets
5.Black Box Theme
6.T’ain’t No Sin
7.Flash Pan Hunter/Intro
8.That’s the Way
9.The Briar and the Rose
10.Russian Dance
11.Gospel Train/Orchestra
12.I’ll Shoot the Moon
13.Flash Pan Hunter
14.Crossroads
15.Gospel Train
16.Interlude
17.Oily Night
18.Lucky Day
19.The Last Rose of Summer
20.Carnival

When I first heard this album I really hated it. It began, as I said in the intro, for me anyway a period of nine years over which I would struggle to try to like Waits’s albums but find myself fighting a losing battle. Apart from one bright spot in 1999, when he released Mule Variations, and I was able to say after six years I had listened to one of his albums I really liked. But that then was followed by two more in quick succession that tested me sorely again.

Perhaps if I was more familiar with the play this is based on I might enjoy it more, get into it more, but even though, listening back to it here, I don’t quite hate it as much as I did, it’s still a very inaccessible album to me and not one I would tend to put on again unless for review purposes. I find it too avant-garde, too experimental, and sadly for me this was the way, mostly, Waits’s music was to go for the foreseeable future. Personally, I regard it as one of his weakest efforts, and even though I can appreciate it a little better now, much of it still annoys me.

Not to mention that I used always to think the track “Black Wings” was on it. It’s not: that’s on Bone Machine, so I don’t even have that. So there’s not a lot I can say about this album, other than if you’re I guess a Burroughs fan or a fan of German folktales you may very well enjoy it. I’m not, and I didn’t. I doubt I ever will.

Rating: 5.0/10
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Old 04-01-2022, 07:52 PM   #45 (permalink)
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Over a nine-year period the one shining beacon in what became a shroud of darkness and hard times for me with Waits's music was the album he released in 1999, which returned somewhat to his previous style, mixing elements from Rain Dogs with Blue Valentine and even older albums like The Heart of Saturday Night. It's not that there wasn't any experimentation on it - one of his cleverest, weirdest and darkest songs, “What's He Building?” is on it - but after the like of The Black Rider and the two albums to follow this, it felt like he had come home, if only for a brief rest and to change his shirt before heading back out into the world of weird and avant-garde.


Mule Variations (1999)

This is an album where Kathleen returns to exert her influence, or add her muse, depending on which way you look at their relationship, in a way that she had not done since 1992's Bone Machine. She writes twelve of the sixteen tracks with him, and co-produces the album. And yet, it's a much more organic feel than with Bone Machine, which for all its beauty sounded harsh, stark and almost mechanical at times. There's a lush almost calm over some of the recordings here, and it ends up being as much a folk as a rock album.

“Big in Japan” gets us underway, and in case you were wondering, no, it's not a cover of the Alphaville song. Everything here is original. Reminding me in ways of “Such a Scream”, it's a big, echoey, bouncy percussion as the song struts along with a sort of falsetto vocal from Waits, some screeching guitar ad some cool trumpet from Ralph Carney. There's a real Rain Dogs feel then to “Lowside of the Road”, a slow, grinding, dark haunting tune that trips along on banjo and guitar, Waits on the optigon organ, and back to his slurred, nearly drunk vocal. “Hold On” slows everything down with a soft ballad reminiscent of “Time”. At five and a half minutes it's almost the longest track on the album but is well beaten by the next one, which at just shy of seven minutes is I think the longest Waits track to date.

“Get Behind the Mule” sees him in full flight vocally, rasping out the lyric with a sort of phased effect and some fine harmonica taking it along in a sort of Delta Blues manner; I hear echoes of “Gun Street Girl” here, then the first song he writes solo on the album is “House Where Nobody Lives”, a lovely piano-driven ballad with more than a hint of gospel about it and a fair slice of Country too. This is very like something you would have heard on Closing time, while “Cold Water” is more in the Heartattack and Vine style, a boppy, bar-room drinking song sparked by sharp guitar in a very blues vein. He actually nods back to Blue Valentine when he sings ”Slept in the graveyard/ It was cool and still” though admittedly on that album he was whistlin' past it. The next two are his own creations also, with “Pony” another piano ballad like something off Franks Wild Years, with a nice dobro line from Smokey Hormel and then I have already written extensively about the genius that is “What's He Building?” which you can read here The Word According to Waits, but suffice to say it's one of his oddest, best, and most disturbing songs when you read between the lines, and certainly a standout on the album, perhaps my favourite.

“Black Market Baby” slides along with its hands thrust deep into its pocket, head down, trying not to make eye contact, turns a corner with a quick look over its shoulder and is gone, leaving us standing in the darkness and pretty much unprepared for the sort of tribal-influenced “Eyeball Kid”. This album is, I think, the first time Waits has used the DJ technique of spinning decks, which began with “What's He Building?” and continues on through the next two tracks. I don't really see their impact to be honest, but someone more familiar with their use may do. Even at that, it's a new direction for the man who is forever kicking over signposts that say “Don't go this way” and gunning his car towards the “Bridge out” sign. A simple piano ballad harking back again to Closing Time for the tender “Picture in a Frame” and things stay slow and folky for some fine banjo on “Chocolate Jesus”. In fact, to an extent we might as well be in 1973 now, as “Georgia Lee” could easily have found a home on his debut album, another piano ballad with some mournful violin and a slow, growly vocal. An accusatory lyric: ”Why wasn't God watching?/ Why wasn't God listening? / Why wasn't God there for Georgia Lee?”

Time to up the tempo now, as “Filipino Box Spring Hog” (don't ask!) bops along with wild abandon, Waits almost tipping his hat to Queen's “We Will Rock You”. I'm serious. Slowing down again then with another piano ballad, “Take it With Me”, with Waits at his quietest and most reserved, and we end on a cheery gospel track, as “Come On Up to the House” just exudes joy and acceptance and welcome. And for a brief time, welcome back Waits: you've been away too long. He even throws in the signature piano riff from “Innocent When You Dream” to finish it off. Wonderful!

TRACK LISTING

1. Big in Japan
2. Lowside of the Road
3. Hold On
4. Get Behind the Mule
5. House Where Nobody Lives
6. Cold Water
7. Pony
8. What's He Building
9. Black Market Baby
10. Eyeball Kid
11. Picture in a Frame
12. Chocolate Jesus
13. Georgia Lee
14. Filipino Box Spring Hog
15. Take it With Me
16. Come On Up to the House

If Waits fans are divided into two camps (and I'm not saying they are), it's probably between those who prefer the “early” material, say up to about 1985, and those who enjoy the more experimental side he began to show from Swordfishtrombones on, thanks to Kathleen and her Beefheart influence. I am of course firmly in the former section; I love everything he did from Closing Time up to and including Rain Dogs, but after that I felt he began to move in a direction I was not completely happy with. Franks Wild Years was where things began to change for me, and really, it never quite recovered from that on.

Bone Machine was an album I did enjoy, and of course the soundtrack album was good too, but the Waits I knew and loved and had come to know was a long way away from me now, and so this album came as a really unexpected and welcome relief from all the harshness of the ones either side of it. It's a return to the “real” Waits music, for me, and it's rather a pity that it was then followed by two albums which, if memory serves, I totally disliked. As we will see.

Rating: 9.6/10
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Old 04-10-2022, 05:46 PM   #46 (permalink)
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Some artists would think it an achievement to release two albums in the same year. Devin Townsend of course releases about ten every week, but Waits went one better than most here, having both this and the subsequent album, Alice, put out on the very same day in 2002. Both are basically music based on two plays, one of which would crop up in a later album four years later, and to be honest as they both came out simultaneously I have no idea which to do first, so I'm just going with the listing Wiki has on his discography, which puts this one first.

Blood Money - (2002)

Again, it's a co-production venture between Waits and his wife, and this time she co-writes every single track with him. What was that about “better off without a wife”, Tom? This is another of the “experimental era” Waits albums I have such a hard time with, and I know for a fact that I only listened to both of these albums once, and was singularly unimpressed with them. For me, Mule Variations was the exception to a rule that held true from late 1993 till mid 2002, and again my faith was sorely tested. Let's see if anything has changed in thirteen years.

Perhaps appropriately, given how these albums affected me, the opener is called “Misery is the River of the World”, and has a real Rain Dogs rhythm to it, a sort of slow stomp and a kind of sullen vocal. There is a great line right away: ”If there's one thing you can say about mankind/ There's nothing kind about Man.” Kind of sets the tone I guess but a real Waits gem. He uses the calliope again here, giving everything a real carnival feel, though not a happy one. Must admit, I don't hate this track as much as I remember doing. It is pretty dour though, and the next track “Everything Goes to Hell” doesn't really inspire any confidence that it may get any more upbeat. Uptempo yes; the rhythm is very “Jockey Full of Bourbon” with some fine bass and a spoken vocal from Waits. Nice bongos and timpani percussion and something that sounds like a marimba or xylophone.

“Coney Island Baby” has a nice twenties-style slow trumpet intro, lounges along nicely in a New Orleans jazz style and accompanied by lovely cello, and once again he uses that piano line from “Innocent When You Dream” right at the end. Creeping along like a drunk jester sidling along the darkened streets, “All the World is Green” has another nice trumpet line and Waits's vocal is restrained and almost gentle, then the tempo jumps for “God's Away On Business”, which I have to be fair, really follows the lines of songs like “Singapore” and “Rain Dogs”. Good though. Also relatively short. Great title too. A slow, weaving horn section drives “Another Man's Vine” (nod back to “Just Another Sucker On the Vine”?) with a very Franks Wild Years vocal. “Knife Chase” is an instrumental that manages to conjure up that very image as it shuffles along, something (castanets?) making a sound like someone out of breath. Genius.

“Lullaby” is a beautiful little gentle ballad with cello and violin backing up Waits's acoustic guitar, and it leads into “Starving in the Belly of a Whale”, which jumps along with fiddle and bells, and the sort of vocal that, again, we hear on “Singapore”, the deep, gruff, ragged one he often uses. Almost a lullaby in itself, “The part you throw away” is a gentle cello-led ballad with a low, husky vocal and a sort of folky slow swing to it, and things slow down further for “Woe”, less than a minute and a half with a passionate slow vocal from Waits backed by cello and violin before we head into the last instrumental, “Calliope” which, rather appropriately, is played by Waits on the calliope, with the album closing on “A Good Man is Hard to Find”. Running on a slow organ line with trumpet and trombone backup, it again has a certain twenties feel about it, very slow jazz mixed with big band, ends the album okay but maybe a little of a damp squib to some extent.

TRACK LISTING

1. Misery is the River of the World
2. Everything Goes to Hell
3. Coney Island Baby
4. All the World is Green
5. God's Away On Business
6. Another Man's Vine
7. Knife Chase
8. Lullaby
9. Starving in the Belly of a Whale
10. The Part You Throw Away
11. Woe
12. Calliope
13. A Good Man is Hard to Find

Meh, it's not as terrible as I remember. Maybe I just needed to give it a fair chance. Certainly no Black Rider, but equally no Mule Variations either. There are good tracks on it certainly, and it's a lot less rooted in the experimental than I had originally remembered. Given a few more listens I might actually come to like it, though I'm not promising myself anything. I suppose it must be accepted that the tone of the songs would have to be tied in to the theme of the play, so perhaps if I knew more about that, I might appreciate the album more. But German expressionist film and theatre is not my thing, so I won't be going there.

Rating: 8.1/10

Does make me wonder though whether I'll have the same semi-change of heart about the other album released on the same day? Speaking of which...
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Old 04-10-2022, 05:54 PM   #47 (permalink)
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Alice (2002)

Music from yet another play, Alice is a slightly longer album than its co-released mate, Blood Money, but from what I remember did not impress me one bit. Still not sure why he decided (or the label decided) to release both albums simultaneously. An odd decision, I would have thought, forcing people either to pay double what they were expecting or, worse, having to choose between the two. Again, both Waits and Kathleen write all the songs, and produce the album together.

It opens on the title track, something reminiscent of his older albums, a slow, soulful number with alto sax from Colin Stetson, making this I believe the first album in some time not to feature Ralph Carney. It's a moody, morose piece that drags its feet along slowly, stretching out its last cigarette as the sodium halo from the streetlights temporarily spotlight it then vanish as it moves on down the street. A low vocal from Waits, very restrained and almost tired in nature, then the sound of a lonesome train whistle and the chug-chug-chugging of the engine introduces a harder, rawer vocal for “Everything You Can Think”, with a very Franks Wild Years feel, but again slow and meandering. I was going to say nice marimba, but I see it's actually Swiss hand bells, and there's also a wavering, twisting sort of carnival rhythm to the song.

Things stay slow for the rather nice “Flower's Grave”, riding on nice cello, violin and clarinet; the general melody puts me in mind of “On the Nickel”, while “No-one Knows I'm Gone” has an interesting line when Waits sings ”Hell above and Heaven below”. Again things move slowly and stately, sort of like being in a funeral procession I feel. The music is good but it's a relief to get some uptempo finally when “Kommienezuspadt” (no, I don't know) kicks things up nicely with a manic song that just seems to be Waits enjoying himself as the band goes all New Orleans jazz. Some suitably crazy laughter from the man and we're into “Poor Edward”, where everything slows down again with a kind of waltz, driven on piano and cello, but tips up nicely for the shuffle of “Table Top Joe” with a real Vegas swing.

“Lost in the harbour” has some good pump organ and again cello and violin, another slow effort but with a nice bittersweet feel, sort of reminds me of Final cut era Floyd for some reason, and I have great hopes for a song titled “We're All Mad Here”. Kicks off in a “Singapore/Underground” vein; in fact it's very “Underground” now that I listen to it carefully. It's not the uptempo loonfest I had expected - no “I'll Be Gone” or “Cemetery Polka” here - but at least it's a little more interesting. A dark ballad then for “Watch Her Disappear”, which recalls the sort of spoken vocal used on “9th and Hennepin” and driven on cello and bass, while “Reeperbanh” trips along on banjo and some fine clarinet and with a ragged vocal from Waits.

That oh-so-familiar lone piano then leads in “I'm Still Here”, which really sounds like something off One from the heart, a short song which then gives way the the country-infused “Fish and Bird”, remaining slow as we move towards the conclusion of the album with “Barcarolle”, and we end on the only instrumental, “Fawn”, with a distinct old Hollywood feel to it in the violin and clarinet that drive the final tune.

TRACK LISTING

1. Alice
2. Everything You Can Think
3. Flowers Grave
4. No-one Knows I'm Gone
5. Kommienezuspadt
6. Poor Edward
7. Table Top Joe
8. Lost in the Harbour
9. We're All Mad Here
10. Watch Her Disappear
11. Reeperbahn
12. I'm Still Here
13. Fish and Bird
14. Barcarolle
15. Fawn

Yeah, I think the main problem I have with this album (in case you didn't notice) is the slow tempo of about ninety percent of it. I'm used to Waits kicking it up a lot, throwing out odd rhythms and using strange instruments, howling like a demon one moment and whispering like a drunken angel the next, and really, nothing like that happens on this album. As I mentioned, it really is, for the most part, the musical equivalent of driving slowly along behind a funeral in a cortege, respectfully ambling along behind the hearse but in reality wishing you could floor the pedal. The pace seldom picks up, and though the songs are certainly not bad, there's a sort of miasma of self-pity and brooding hanging over them like a dark cloud.

To be perfectly honest, of the two I prefer Blood Money: at least it had some faster and more atypical songs. Hell, at this point I'd be prepared to admit I'd prefer The Black Rider! It may have been weird and inaccessible for the most part, but at least it kicked out the stays and had some fun. This is just for most of it dour, stolid and depressing. My least favourite Waits album may have just changed.

Rating: 5.5/10
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Old 04-12-2022, 06:21 AM   #48 (permalink)
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ADDITIONAL: THE WORD ACCORDING TO WAITS

Not an album, this is taking a slight detour away from the discography to look at the lyrics of this artist we called Tom Waits. The man is a genius, and almost everything that flows from his pen is pure gold! He has at once some of the most obscure and deep lyrics you could ever come across. Many of his songs seem not to make sense on one level, but if examined deeply and with enough insight they become clear. Sometimes. Others are just A-level weird. But one thing about his songs is that they are always well written: he doesn't commit lyrics to paper that are banal or mundane.

In this section I'll be (of course) discussing the genius of Tom Waits, featuring three songs of his and reproducing both the video and the lyrics, talking extensively about the latter, and trying to give you a real appreciation for the ridiculous amount of talent this man has. We're going to start off with something that is in fact "live", and was never on any studio album. Taken from the 1975 album Nighthawks at the Diner, the album itself is something of an oddity, being recorded as it was in a studio, Record Plant in New York, but the studio having been setup like a bar, and the performance taped live. Although listening to it it sounds impromptu and ad-lib, the whole thing was actually rehearsed before the band got on stage, as it were.

On the album, Waits spends plenty of time in between tracks telling little anecdotes, sometimes to do with the songs, sometimes not, but it's all extremely entertaining, and though the music is fantastic, sometimes the introductions - or intermissions if you like - are even moreso. None of the tracks on this album ever surfaced on a studio Waits album, since or after, so this is the only place you get to hear such excellent compositions as “Emotional Weather Report”, “Nobody” and “Warm Beer and Cold Women”.

The one I want to concentrate on, though, to open this section, is a song many women may take offence at, but it's all meant in fun, so don't be too hard on the guy. You'll understand what I mean when you hear the title: “Better Off Without a Wife.”

Better Off Without a Wife, from Nighthawks at the Diner, 1975 (Asylum)


The song is a piano based blues/jazz melody wherein Waits extols the virtues of being single. You can go where you want, when you want, no-one's on your case. He talks about his friends, who are all married, and how he doesn't want to be like them. Of course, he only looks at one side of the argument, but it's a great funny little song at its heart, and if you leave any simmering outrage at the door, you'll realise he's only singing about what we all think of from time to time, single, married or divorced.

Here's the lyric.

All my friends are married: every Tom and Dick and Harry:
you must be strong if you're to go it alone.
Here's to the bachelors and the bowery bums
And those who feel that they're the ones
Who are better off without a wife.

[CHORUS]
I like to sleep until the crack of noon:
Midnight howlin' at the moon.
Goin' out when I wanna, comin' home when I please.
I don't have to ask permission if I want to go out fishin':
And I never have to ask for the keys.

Never been no Valentino but I had a girl who lived in Reno
Left me for a trumpet player, but it didn't get me down.
He was wanted for assault though he said it weren't his fault.
You know, the cops they rode him right out of town.

[CHORUS]

Selfish about my privacy; as long as I can be with me
We get along so well I can't believe.
I love to chew the fat with folks and listen to all your dirty jokes.
I'm so thankful for these friends I do receive.


The next one I want to share with you is from his seminal album Rain Dogs, and it's a track entitled “9th and Hennepin”. I guess it's purely coincidental that Rain Dogs is his ninth album, but the track itself is written about real-life events, as is much of the imagery on the album. It's quite odd in that it has no real verse or chorus structure, and Waits does not sing it. It's more like drawled poetry behind a very discordant piano, wailing clarinet, double-bass and marimba, and you get the feel of looking out of grime-encrusted, yellow windows out onto rain-washed streets at night. The song is spoken in one continuous verse, though he does take breath a few times to allow the piano to carry the tune.

Waits described the inspiration for the song thus: “Most of the imagery is from New York. It's just that I was on 9th and Hennepin years ago in the middle of a pimp war, and 9th and Hennepin always stuck in my mind. "There's trouble at 9th and Hennepin." To this day I'm sure there continues to be trouble at 9th and Hennepin. At this donut shop. They were playing "Our Day Will Come" by Dinah Washington when these three 12-year-old pimps came in in chinchilla coats armed with knives and, uh, forks and spoons and ladles and they started throwing them out in the streets. Which was answered by live ammunition over their heads into our booth. And I knew "Our Day Was Here." I remember the names of all the donuts: cherry twist, lime rickey. But mostly I was thinking of the guy going back to Philadelphia from Manhattan on the Metroliner with The New York Times, looking out the window in New York as he pulls out of the station, imagining all the terrible things he doesn't have to be a part of.”
(Transcribed verbatim from Wikipedia article)


9th and Hennepin, from Rain Dogs, 1985 (Island)


It's typical of the sort of social commentary Waits puts into his songs. But he never seems to do this to be seen as controversial, or to be noticed, or praised for his cleverness. The lyrics seem to be written in a genuine, honest attempt to bring someone's plight to the attention of the masses. You can always imagine Waits staggering along a dark street, raincoat pulled tight across his scrawny chest, a half-empty bottle of whiskey clutched in his bony hand, shouting at and haranguing everyone he meets in a slurred, drunken voice. Like some inebriated prophet of the sidewalk, Waits always seems to not only write for the common man, or woman, but to be right down there among them. As I once said about Nick Cave, he's kind of the patron saint of the dispossessed.

Anyway, here's the lyric, poem, prose, call it what you will. What can't be denied though, is that it is genius, on every level.

Well it's 9th and Hennepin, and all the donuts have names that sound like prostitutes.
And the moon's teethmarks are on the sky like a tarp thrown over all this
And the broken umbrellas like dead birds,
And the steam comes out of the grill like the whole goddamned town is ready to blow.
And the bricks are all scarred with jailhouse tattoos, and everyone is behaving like dogs.
And the horses are coming down Violin Road, and Dutch is dead on his feet.
And the rooms all smell like diesel and you take on the dreams of the ones who have slept here.
And I'm lost in the window; I hide on the stairway, I hang in the curtain and I sleep in your hat.

And no one brings anything small into a bar around here:
They all started out with bad directions.
And the girl behind the counter has a tattooed tear:
“One for every year he's away” she said.
Such a crumbling beauty --- ah there's nothin' wrong with her that a hundred dollars won't fix.
She has that razor sadness that only gets worse with the clang and thunder of the Southern Pacific going by.

And the clock ticks out like a dripping faucet till you're full of rag water and bitters and blue ruin
And you spill out over the side to anyone who'll listen.
And I've seen it all, I've seen it all through the yellow windows of the evening train.


Waits also has this uncanny ability to tap into the wanderer, the restless dreamer in all of us, and nowhere is this more perfectly demonstrated than in the tragic tale told in “Burma-Shave”. It's a piano-led song, almost a ballad, about a girl who hooks up with a mysterious stranger who rolls into town one day on his way through. Tired of waiting for something to happen, the girl decides to leave with him and seek out the fabled better life waiting just out of reach. But of course, never one to let fantasy outlive reality, Waits has them involved in a pileup and killed.

Yes, it's a morose song, but very realistic, and sadly probably true of many of the “wild ones” who thought they were indestructible. Waits tells the story of how the name of the song came about thus (this is from memory, so I may not get it right: I think it comes from a radio interview): “When I was growin' up and we'd go out driving with my father we'd keep passing these signs, they'd say things like “Food and gas up ahead - Burma Shave!” And I thought Burma Shave was a place. Never realised it was just a shaving product till I grew up. I was really upset, thinking “Never gonna live there, Tom!”


Burma-Shave, from Foreign Affairs, 1977 (Asylum)


The song is really almost a one-man-show. Waits plays the piano, sings the vocal and the only other accompaniment is right at the end, with a plaintive sax break. In many ways an introspective song, it's certainly gritty and full of realism, and yet there's no moral here. Waits doesn't make the point that maybe the girl should have stayed at home instead of going off on what she hoped would be an adventure. Similarly, he doesn't say that she was right to do what she did, even though it cost both her and the boy their lives. In the end, there is no right or wrong. People are people, they'll do stupid, impulsive things, but if they didn't, then they wouldn't be people.

Waits takes the role of observer, narrator and does not take sides in the story. His voice is not sad as he describes the car crash and the resultant death (or deaths; we assume the boy dies, but only the girl is mentioned as being “pulled from the wreck”. It's also not confirmed she is dead, though it's assumed to be the case) but almost philosophical, a musical shrug that hey, these things happen, and it's tragic, but that's life.

And here's the lyric:

Liquorice tattoo turned a gun metal blue scrawled across the shoulders of a dying town.
The one-eyed jacks across the railroad tracks and the scar on its belly pulled a stranger passing through.
He's a juvenile delinquent: never learned how to behave ---
But the cops would never think to look in Burma-Shave.

The road was like a ribbon and the moon was like a bone:
He didn't seem to be like any guy she'd ever known.
Kinda looked like Farley Granger with his hair slicked back;
She says “I'm a sucker for a fella in a cowboy hat. How far are you going?”
He said “Depends on what you mean.” He says “I'm only stopping here to get some gasoline.”
He says “I guess I'm going thataway, just as long as it's paved:
I guess you'd say I'm on my way to Burma-Shave.”

And with her knees up on the glove compartment she took out her barrettes
And her hair spilled out like rootbeer and she popped her gum, and arched her back.
“Hell, Marysville ain't nothing but a wide spot in the road:
Some nights my heart pounds just like thunder: don't know why it don't explode.
Cause everyone in this stinking town has got one foot in the grave
And I'd rather take my chances out in Burma-Shave.

Presley's what I go by: why don't you change the station?
Count the grain elevators in the rearview mirror.”
She said, “Mister, anywhere you point this thing has got to beat the hell out of the sting
Of going to bed with every dream that dies here every mornin'.
So drill me a hole with a barber pole.
I'm jumping my parole just like a fugitive at night.
Why don't you have another swig?
Pass that car if you're so brave?
I wanna get there before the sun comes up in Burma-Shave.”

The spider web crack and the mustang scream:
Smoke from the tyres and the twisted machine.
Just a nickel's worth of dreams; every wishbone that they saved
Lie swindled from them on the way to Burma-Shave.

The sun hit the derrick and cast a bat wing shadow up against the car door on the shotgun side.
And when they pulled her from the wreck you know she still had on her shades.
They say that dreams are growing wild just this side of Burma-Shave.


If the songs above prove anything, it's that, excellent as Tom Waits' music is, it's his lyrics that truly characterise his songs, give them heart and life. The man is a poet, and puts that poetry to music. But it's not airy-fairy poetry: it's the poetry of the streets, the words of the ordinary man, the view from the gutter. He has a way of framing the most mundane settings and objects in a way few others can, allowing us to see through the eyes of the characters in his songs, feel what they feel, dream what they dream and understand in the way only they can.

He allows us to put on their shoes, and we walk the grimy streets he has painted for them, live their lives and experience what they go through. It can be a scary process, but it's always worthwhile.


It's a rare talent, and almost a lost art, but as long as Waits is around, it won't be lost just yet.
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Old 04-27-2022, 01:02 PM   #49 (permalink)
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A mere two years later, Waits had his next album out, one that would, for the first time really in his career, contain songs that had a political message. Mostly a man who tended to shy from either airing or writing about his beliefs - political or religious - if he indeed has them, Waits's songs have always been more personal, more intimate and concerned with people than policy or national events, but on this album - perhaps affected by the events of 9/11, perhaps not - he boldly stepped into that area which he had avoided up to this point.


Real Gone (2004)

It's a return to the use of turntables, his first use of this new "instrument" since Mule Variations, which adds a very mechanical, almost alien feel to the opener, “Top of the Hill”; kind of hard to hear the vocal really as it's more or less subsumed under the raucous guitar work of Marc Ribot and Casey Waits (I don't know if (s)he's any relation) on the turntables. Strange track, very like something off maybe Bone Machine or even The Black Rider. It's got a kind of swing to it but I don't really like it. It's pretty repetitive and it goes on way too long, well outstaying its welcome. Slower then and with a metal-sounding drumbeat (not heavy metal; it sounds like he's hitting metal pots or something) “Hoist that Rag” opens with a wailing, Franks Wild Years-style vocal then Waits growls the chorus, the song itself a clear reference to the flag, presumably of the United States but I expect it's meant to refer to any national flag, the idea of dying for your country. There's a slow amble as we move into “Sins of My Father”, and when I said before that a song at eight minutes was the longest Waits has recorded I was certainly wrong, as this clocks in at a massive ten!

There's a real feel of Rain Dogs and Swordfishtrombones to this, and it is a good song but again does it need to be that long? Essentially it follows the same melody all the way through, and yeah, being Waits he could probably add another twenty verses, but it has six already. Some very nice banjo and guitar, and we slide on into “Shake it” which has little other than claps and guitar, very Bone Machine. Again the vocal is hard to make out, though it probably isn't saying much. “Don't Go into That Barn” seems to retread the path walked over ten years previously when Waits penned “Murder in the Red Barn”, and has the same sort of manic, almost panicked vocal with some slick bass driving the tune. A very folky kind of jaunt in “How's it Gonna End?” with a low-key vocal and then “Metropolitan Glide” kicks down the walls as Waits and his band just go all crazy, mad rhythms and a scratchy vocal, a real sort of improvisational jam.

“Dead and Lovely” is a mid-tempo bitter ballad of the type Waits does so well, with some good guitar and bass. It's interesting to see here Waits return to his basic style in terms of musical instruments; whereas prior to this he has used things like cello, viola, pump organ, glass harp, celeste and others on his albums, here he's sticking mostly with the guitar/bass/drums/piano/banjo combination, with a few exceptions of course, but in general it leads to a more organic feel to the record, despite what I said earlier about the metallic sound of some of the tracks. This track is probably my favourite so far, maybe tying with “Sins of My Father”, which has really grown on me. A return to the spoken vocal from “9th and Hennepin” for “Circus”, which has him bring back the chamberlin, just as I mention his using only “normal” instruments, and bells tinkle away nicely in the background, giving the piece a sort of dark fairytale feel, while “Trampled Rose” is pretty acoustic with a kind of moaning vocal.

The vocal is low and the music very sparse for “Green Grass”, with some whistling (don't think I've heard that since The Early Years - not including the whistle at the end of “What's He Building?”) then we're going all industrial with “Baby Gonna Leave Me”, and so into “Make it Rain”, a sort of slowed-down version of “Such a Scream”. I know, I've said that before, but it's true. Listen to it. We close then on another political song, as Waits in the persona of a soldier bemoans his lot in “Day After Tomorrow” --- ”They fill us full of lies everyone buys/ About what it means to be a soldier/ I still don't know how I'm supposed to feel/ About all the blood that's been spilled” --- nice laidback acoustic line carrying the song, and it ends the album well.

TRACK LISTING

1. Top of the Hill
2. Hoist that Rag
3. Sins of My Father
4. Shake it
5. Don't Go into That Barn
6. How's it Gonna End
7. Metropolitan Glide
8. Dead and Lovely
9. Circus
10. Trampled Rose
11. Green Grass
12. Baby Gonna Leave Me
13. Clang Boom Steam
14. Make it Rain
15. Day After Tomorrow

It's certainly an improvement on the last two albums, and in some ways it's Waits getting back to what he does best, but I still find it hard to get excited about this album in the same way as I enthused about, say, Blue Valentine or Rain Dogs or even Bone Machine. I haven't listened to it very much, but I do remember that I tried quite hard to get into it at the time my brother gave me a tape (yeah, what of it?) of the album but found it very hard to. Could it be that Waits is losing his spark?

There are only two albums left now in his discography, at least so far, but before we get to what is currently his last album that there's one (penultimate?) hurrah as he gathered up all his unreleased material and jammed it onto a massive three-disc, fifty-plus-track compilation and unleashed on us in 2006. That one's gonna be some amount of work!

Rating: 7.5/10
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Old 04-27-2022, 02:33 PM   #50 (permalink)
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They redid Real Gone in 2017 and a lot of fans weren't pleased. Hoist that Rag has the biggest complaint section because they added horns tot he song, and OVER the guitar solo. I tend to think the opening to the 2017 version is better, but the solo on the 2004 version is superior.

This album took awhile for me to get into but I've come to love about half the album
  1. Hoist that Rag
  2. Sins of My Father
  3. Don't Go Into that Barn (which I thought for certain was on Bone Machine...I'm losing my marbles)
  4. How's it gonna end
  5. Dead and lovely
  6. Trampled Rose - Great cover by Robert Plant & Allison Kraus on Raising Sand
  7. Make It Rain
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