|05-11-2022, 08:23 PM||#53 (permalink)|
Born to be mild
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
We near the end of what he himself might call an "inebriated stroll through the metropolitan area" of Waits's work (though I swear I haven't touch a drop since about 1987!) with only two albums to go, but as I intimated at the end of the previous review, in typical Waits style the man goes all out with his, so far, penultimate offering, and it's bloody gigantic. In 2006, Waits got together all the unreleased songs, pieces of music, ideas and demos he had recorded over the years and put them all together on what would become a three-disc collection. In an attempt to not just throw everything there in no order, he arranged them into three distinct groups, which he called individually, “Brawlers”, “Bawlers” and “Bastards” and released the entire thing under that title.
Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards - 2006
Here's what Waits has to say about the collection: ”A lot of songs that fell behind the stove while making dinner, about 60 tunes that we collected. Some are from films, some from compilations. Some is stuff that didn't fit on a record, things I recorded in the garage with kids. Oddball things, orphaned tunes. It was just a big pile of songs. It's like having a whole lot of footage for a film. It needs to be arranged in a meaningful way so it will be a balanced listening experience. You have this big box with all these things in it and it doesn't really have any meaning until it's sequenced. It took some doing. There's a thematic divide, and also pacing and all that. There are different sources to all these songs and they were written at different times. Making them work together is the trick.”
The first disc (“Brawlers”) is rooted more in his work on albums such as Heartattack and Vine, Rain Dogs and Blue Valentine: stuff more rock and blues-based, while the second, “Bawlers” is the ballads with the third being experimental and spoken word material that comes under the heading of “Bastards”. All in all there are a massive fifty-two tracks, so you'll understand if I skim though them here. I'll do my best to point out and focus on the better ones, but many will be just a line or a few words.
Disc One: “Brawlers”
“Lie to Me” is an untempo barebones rocker which has elements of Swordfishtrombones and Franks Wild Years about it, pretty manic with an almost indecipherable lyric, and it's pretty guitar driven, followed by “Lowdown”, which reminds me of Bowie meets ZZ with its hard-edged rock feel. The next one is called “2:19” yet runs for over five minutes, and has some cool harmonica and interesting percussion. Oh, I see: 2:19 is the train time. Fair enough. Reminds me a little of “Filipino Box Spring Hog” off Mule Variations. “Fish in the Jailhouse” rocks along well, kind of reminds me a little of “A Sweet Little Bullet from a Pretty Blue Gun”, while “Bottom of the World” is country-infused acoustic with a real hobo idea to it, “Lucinda” has a much more Bone Machine mechanical feel about it with somehow a feeling of an old folk ballad, and then we get one of very few covers, as he takes on Leadbelly's “Ain't Going Down to the Well”, followed by the traditional tune “Lord I've Been Changed”, with of course a heavy gospel influence.
“Puttin' on the Dog” is a blues-infused harmonica-driven mid-pacer, but highlight of at least this disc, if not the whole album, is “Road to Peace”, where Waits spits out his anger and frustration at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, his voice sad and bitter against a swinging blues beat as he sings ”The last thing he said was/ God is great and God is good/ Then he blew them all/ To Kingdom Come.” At seven minutes plus it's a longer song than we're used to getting from Waits, and the most scathing of the US Administration as he growls ”Bush is afraid to risk his future/ In the fear of his political failures/ So he plays chess at his desk / And poses for the press/ Ten thousand miles from/ The road to peace.” One of his most telling lines in the song is ”If God is great and God is good/ Why can't he change the hearts of men?” Why, indeed?
“All the Time” goes back to the grindy vocal with a hint of mechanisation in it that we hear on Bone Machine, then he hits up The Ramones for “The Return of Jackie and Judy” before skipping along without a care in “Walk Away” and then another cover in Phil Philips's “Sea of Love”. Two tracks then complete this disc, the first being “Buzz Fledderjohn”, a slow folk acoustic (with added dog!) and the closer allowing Waits to work with his longtime friend who is mentioned a lot all through his earlier albums, Chuck E. Weiss, as “Rains on Me” takes us one third of the way through this collection with a gospel-infused folk ballad.
Disc two: “Bawlers”
A short, sort of lullaby-like tune, “Bend Down the Branches” opens the second disc, followed by “You can never hold back spring”, like something off Closing Time, with piano and trumpet driving the tune. “Long Way Home” has a very downbeat Country feel to it, with violin holding court on “Widow's Grove”. Everyone probably knows “Little Drop of Poison”, since it featured in Shrek II, and “Shiny Things” slips along on a nice banjo rhythm with I think clarinet. There's a return then to the opening of One from the Heart for “The World Keeps Turning”, slow measured piano ballad with a gentle (for Waits) vocal, a Country waltz for “Tell it to Me”, even some steel guitar in there to add to the Country flavour, while “Never Let Go” sways along nicely on a piano line somewhat reminiscent of “Innocent When You Dream” in places.
“Fannin Street” has the low-key melancholy of “Time”, with something of the Irish traditional song “From Clare to Here” about it too, while I hear snatches of “Soldier's Things” in the sprinkly piano that drives “Little Man”, though in fairness it's a far different song, just the initial feel I get from it. Jazzy piano and smoky sax run “It's Over”, one of the most downbeat ballads here, again reminding me of material from One from the Heart, particularly “Old Boyfriends”, “The Wages of Love” and “Picking Up After You”. It's no surprise that “If I Have to Go” sounds very Franks Wild Years, as it was originally in the play but never made it onto the album, which is a pity as it's a really nice soft piano ballad. Another of Leadbelly's next in “Goodnight Irene”. I don't know the original so can't say how well he covers the song but I like this crazy, drunken rendition a lot.
An acoustic, mournful ballad, “The Fall of Troy” is a fine example of Waits's flair for storytelling in a song, though it ends too abruptly, while funeral jazz mixes with slow gospel for “Take Care of All My Children” and a slow hobo ballad follows in the shape of “Down There By the Train”. One original song remains on this disc then, sandwiched in between two covers, the first being a return to The Ramones for “Danny Says”, nice slow acoustic, very simple, then the last of his own songs is “Jayne's Blue Wish”, and the classic “Young at Heart” wraps up the second disc, rather appropriately, given that Waits never seems to show his age (he was sixty-seven at the time this was released, so eighty-three now) and it also features some of that whistling I've missed so much.
Disc three: “Bastards”
This is the one that features mostly experimental music, more in the vein of recent albums as well as some spoken-word pieces. It opens on “What Keeps Mankind Alive”, with a very carnival Franks Wild Years/Black Rider feel, staccato accordion and organ in a kind of slow tango rhythm with some nice mandolin too. It's followed by the bleak “Children's Story”, which I do not recommend as a bedtime tale for kids, and that's followed by the weirdest version of “Heigh Ho” you have ever heard! Yeah, the one from Snow White! Another spoken one is “Army Ants”, where Waits informs us about the insects as if he were narrating a National Geographic special or something, then a cover of Skip Spence's “Book of Moses” before he scat-sings his way through “Bone Chain”, and then tackles the traditional song “Two Sisters” almost acapella with only a fiddle for accompaniment. A mix of Franks Wild Years and Heartattack and Vine for “First Kiss”, touch of “Goin' Out West” on “Dog Door”, and then four short songs one after the other.
First up is “Redrum”, which is just ... weird. Like some mad feedback over some guitar chords and maybe organ? Possibly meant to convey the feeling of the word it spells backwards? Short though and it leads into “Nirvana”, a spoken-word effort using the words of Bukowski against accordion and then it's Jack Kerouac who provides the lyrical content of “Home I'll Never Be” on solo piano, until Waits teams up with William J. Kennedy for “Poor Little Lamb” with a very Franks Wild Years feel. “Altar Boy” looks back to Small Change and songs like “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart”, then he talks about his cars in “The Pontiac”, no instrumentation at all, then more scat singing and boombox for “Spidey's Wild Ride”.
That brings us almost to the end, as he wraps up with a cover of Daniel Johnston's “King Kong” before finally paying one more tribute to Kerouac on, what else, “On the Road”. And that's it. A staggering fifty-two songs later, one for every week in the year, we've come to the end of this amazing compilation, and indeed almost the end of the discography of Tom Waits. So far.
Disc one: “Brawlers”
1. Lie to Me
4. Fish in the Jailhouse
5. Bottom of the World
7. Ain't Going Down to the Well
8. Lord I've Been Changed
9. Puttin' on the Dog
10. Road to Peace
11. All the Time
12. The Return of Jackie and Judy
13. Walk Away
14. Sea of Love
15. Buzz Fledderjohn
16. Rains on Me
Disc two: “Bawlers”
1. Bend Down the Branches
2. You Can Never Hold Back Spring
3. Long Way Home
4. Widow's Grove
5. Little Drop of Poison
6. Shiny Things
7. World Keeps Turning
8. Tell it to Me
9. Never Let Go
10. Fannin Street
11. Little Man
12. It's Over
13. If I Have to Go
14. Goodnight Irene
15. The Fall of Troy
16. Take Care of All My Children
17. Down There By the Train
18. Danny Says
19. Jayne's Blue Wish
20. Young at Heart
Disc three: “Bastards”
1. What Keeps Mankind Alive?
2. Children's Story
3. Heigh Ho
4. Army Ants
5. Book of Moses
6. Bone Chain
7. Two Sisters
8. First Kiss
9. Dog Door
12. Home I'll Never Be
13. Poor Little Lamb
14. Altar Boy
15. The Pontiac
16. Spidey's Wild Ride
17. King Kong
18. On the Road
It would be dishonest of me to say I loved, or even liked, every track on this album - there are some that are just too odd for me and some I simply don't like - but given that there are so many tracks on it I find I like more than I don't, which is really a feat in itself. Somewhat like the two Early Years compilations of the 90s, this triple boxset gives a real insight into the sort of music Waits had been writing since about 1985 (the start point given for the songs here) and now, and shows that, far from my fear that he may have taken a divergent path to the one I've been used to seeing him follow and changing his musical direction entirely, he can still write songs that make me laugh, cry and think, and as long as he can do that, I guess I'll always be a fan.
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
|05-29-2022, 10:43 AM||#54 (permalink)|
Born to be mild
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Okay well so far this is the last album Waits has released. A whole ten, no eleven years ago! Surely it must be time for something new? For now though, this is all we got and it completes the current discography of this amazing artist.
Bad as Me (2011)
It's been seven years since Waits' last studio recording, Real Gone, and doesn't it feel like it? In between we've had the three-volume rarities and unreleased collection, Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards, and the live album Glitter and Doom, but this is his first album of new, original material to hit the streets since 2004. Has it been worth the wait (sorry)? Come on, seriously now: you call yourself a Waits fan and ask that question? What? You're not a Waits fan? Well, we'll have to see what we can do about that now, won't we?
“Chicago” gets us off to a flying start, with the usual eclectic mix of instruments you expect to find on a Waits album - accordion, trombone, clarinet, vox organ (whatever that is!), vibraphone, harmonica, tablas, pump organ - in fact, as Waits albums go, this is fairly restrained in its use of the weirder things he usually makes to create his musical soundscapes. The opener flies past really quickly, almost before you have a chance to appreciate it, but it's a fast, uptempo, happy song with Waits as ever on top form, gravelly voice not dulled by the years, or the time spent away from the recording studio.
“Raised Right Men” is a boogie/blues number, with screeching organ and insistent banjo, while “Talking at the Same Time” slows things down for a typical Waits tune, with clarinet and trombone leading the way, vibraphone painting a delicate picture in the background. On this song, Waits reverts to the higher-pitched voice he employs on songs like “Shore Leave”, proving that he doesn't always have to growl, and is just as unique and satisfying singing like this. The brass give the effect of walking down a dark street, perhaps somewhat the worse for drink, as the rest of the music swirls around like the way the street spins when you're, shall we say, tired and emotional, and trying to find your way home. Sounds like a pretty slick upright bass in there too. Class.
“Get Lost” showcases Waits at his most manic, circa Bone Machine, with a jazzy, boppy number carried on guitar and trombones with some pretty mad organ doing its thing too. A totally insane banjo solo (yeah, I know!) gives way to an equally effective guitar solo in a song that's under three minutes long. Definite fifties vibe in there, with Waits channelling the ghost of Elvis, and beating the King at his own game. It's a slow, lazy stroll then, after the headlong dash of the previous track, for “Face to the Highway”, with some special guitar work and a busy bassline, while “Pay Me” is another drunken ballad in the style of “Innocent When You Dream”, with accordion, violin and harmonica meshing in a way they seldom can to create a fragile, fractured song of true and simple beauty.
Since the departure of Bones Howe, only one man can produce Waits, and that's Waits, but 1999's Mule Variations saw him being joined at the production desk by his longtime partner and wife Kathleen Brennan, and she's here again, counterbalancing his often lunatic, discordant style and making sure the songs fit into some sort of format, the calm ying to his raging yang, as Mr. Burns once said. “Back in the Crowd” is another slow, almost Mexican song with lovely acoustic guitar and castanets, plus some fine banjo adding real spice to the track, while all Hell is let loose for the title track, with Waits again the mad musician, crazy guitar, kettle drums and his falsetto rising above it all like some sort of insane king surveying his equally mad kingdom. Ah, Waits, ye've been away for too long!
Showing his total musical versatility, “Kiss Me” is a gentle, electric piano-led ballad very much in the vein of “Old Boyfriends”, which was sung by Crystal Gayle on the soundtrack to One from the Heart, on which she co-starred with him. A real slow jazz and blues number, it has some truly sparkling piano work in it, then the trumpets and trombones announce the arrival of the joyous “Satisfied”, as Waits envisions life after him with none of the maudlin regrets or fears most of us have when contemplating our own end. Great, out-of-control organ helps the song along, a real fun ride.
Waits is not known for long songs, and nothing here is over four minutes, and all but three tracks under that. Short, snappy, concise, Waits is like a mugger who hits you, robs you and legs it before the law come after him, running off with a mad laugh down the street: hit and run music, certainly, and the better for it. You're just finished delighting in the madcap fun of “Satisfied” when the beautiful simplicity of “Last Leaf” hits you upside the heart, a delicate, simple song in which Waits sings ”I'm the last leaf on the tree/ The autumn took the rest/ But they won't take me.” Stunning imagery in a truly exceptional song, the more impressive due to its understated nature.
“Hell Broke Luce” kicks out the last restraints on Waits and he goes totally crazy, a kind of march or parade as he struts along and asks the question we all want to know the answer to: ”How many ways can you / Polish up a turd?” Angry guitar breaks in for the first time - that would be the one and only Keith Richards making his presence felt, and I'm sure he was appropriately grateful - making this the heaviest track on the album by a long way, with a pretty repetitive melody that somehow stays interesting, like poetry being recited on stage, backed by drummers who must be high on something. Gloriously weird.
And then it ends, with another slow, gentle accordion-led ballad, the wonderful “New Year's Eve”. Beautiful banjo work again gives this song a slightly Mexican/Mariachi feel, and the only bad thing about this song is that it signals the end of the album. I could listen to twice this many tracks, and more.
Not that I expected anything less, but Bad as Me is a hugely triumphant return of the king of the offbeat, a complete vindication of Waits' music and a joy to his many fans. It's strangely appropriate that Waits again takes the music world by storm in the year in which he has been, finally, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His reaction was vintage Waits as he grinned “They say I have no hits and I'm difficult to work with, like it's a bad thing!”
This album is going to get listened to a LOT in this house, I can tell you! It's truly great to see him back, at the top of his game again, and let's hope we don't have to wait (again, sorry!) too long for his next opus.
2. Raised Right Men
3. Talking at the Same Time
4. Get Lost
5. Face to the Highway
6. Pay Me
7. Back in the Crowd
8. Bad as Me
9. Kiss me
11. Last Leaf
12. Hell Broke Luce
13. New Year's Eve
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