Thursday, March 11, 2010

Further Transitions...

I used to have a coworker named Tim who said when he was in high school working at a record store they would always throw Tom Waits in the CD player (or likely on the record player, Tim was pretty old) whenever they wanted to run people out of the store at closing time (yes, reference intended). That always makes me laugh. It’s true that Tom is an acquired taste all the way back to his third album when he truly began to shed his piano balladeer sentiments and started spewing his tales of hookers and hustlers in a jazz scat style that soon had him adapting his already gravelly voice to a Louis Armstrong gargling battery acid growl. But that change seemed natural and ever imminent. The real gearshift in his artistic direction came about with 1980’s Heartattack and Vine, a heavier, full band effort and about as close as he’s ever come to making a “straightforward” rock album. Playing with time signatures and rhythms, he continues to sing about the life and times of the down and out and maintains much of the jazzy-bluesy roots of previous outings, and yet this album is basically the foundation where he would build and develop the sonic-experimental sounds that gave us one of a kind classics like Swordfishtrombones, Bone Machine and Mule Variations. Further still, four of the nine songs are piano-with-strings ballads and some of the most tender and sentimental of his career, rivaling even the likes of debut heartbreakers like Ol’ 55, Martha and Grapefruit Moon. The glorious thing about this album, and Waits in general, is his ability to find a silver lining in every gutter dog situation, the beauty of his music, which truly exists beneath the grit and the grrr, making even the most sordid of lives seem charming, even ideal. Growl on.

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