Hey Buddy, Can You Spare A Dime? The World of Tom Waits - Page 3

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Thread: Hey Buddy, Can You Spare A Dime? The World of Tom Waits

  1. #21
    Offline: Depressed Trollheart's Avatar
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    Aug 2019
    Where the sour turns to sweet
    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, coming right up so stay tuned. The other 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 (Island)

    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 straining 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 bass line, 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 (are 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”.


    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.
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989

    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  2. #22
    Offline: Depressed Trollheart's Avatar
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    Where the sour turns to sweet
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    Bone Machine --- 1992 (Island)

    Okay, here’s the thing, as they say. Here it is. Look at it. It’s here. 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 artiste truly crosses most genres, it's Tom Waits.

    So what do you get on Bone Machine? Well, you get 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's 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.

    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, 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 similar to the one he used to open Frank’s Wild Years, on “Hang on Saint Christopher”, 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 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, 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 and Waits is 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. I think maybe it concerns 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, starting 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' 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 rel 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.


    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, by now Waits had moved on from the sound that identified him with those albums (if any sound ever truly could) and was evolving as an artist, experimenting and possibly not even knowing where the music would take him. Stil, 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 artiste 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's weakest compositions kick the ass of most other bands, steal their lunch money and send 'em cryin' home to mama!
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989

    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  3. #23
    Offline: Depressed Trollheart's Avatar
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    Aug 2019
    Where the sour turns to sweet

    Before I move on to the next album review, and make a somewhat startling revelation (actually, not startling at all: I was just trying to grab your attention) I’d like to return to the section where I examine the genius of the man through his lyrics. I’ve said before that Waits makes his characters come alive in the music, but they’re never, or seldom ever, heroes. Almost exclusively male, they’re the downtrodden, the deadbeat and the drunk, the disaffected and the disenfranchised, and lots of other things beginning with “d”. They wander, stagger or limp through the cityscapes he paints for them, sitting on a damp park bench at night in some forgotten corner, sucking cheap supermarket whiskey from a bottle wrapped in brown paper, staring out the grimy windows of a nineteenth-floor apartment dreaming of freedom while trying to ignore the squalling of their three children and the incessant nagging of their wives, or staging a badly-planned and doomed bank heist.

    They hardly ever win, there are no happy endings for them and few if any have ever seen, much less lived in, a house with a picket fence. They mostly believe in God, not because they want to, or have faith, but just because most of the time they’re too depressed or drunk to care, and besides, ya gotta have someone to blame, ya know?. They only go into churches when it’s raining and they need somewhere to wait out the night - but usually get thrown out by priests who have had enough of their using the church as a sanctuary - really! Was that how God intended His house to be used? - and if they see a woman on the street they may mumble and tip their battered hat, but that’s about as far as interaction with the opposite sex goes for them. They have no time for love. Love is for those who have houses, jobs, families, money. Love is not a part of their world.

    And yet, from time to time we will get glimpses of a somewhat settled life for some of these characters. The dude in “Shore Leave”, who hates being apart from his baby. The woman selling the “Soldier’s Things”. And this one.

    “Frank’s Wild Years”, from
    Swordfishtrombones, 1983 (Island)

    His first album for Island, having left Asylum Records, with whom he shared seven years, and the first he produced himself, as well as the one on which he diversified, left the lounge jazz and blues largely behind and, like the guy in this song, headed off in a totally different direction, seeking new horizons.. The interesting thing about this track is that it would form the title and theme for his ninth album, which would also use the name for a play Waits would write, and on which the album would be based. But that was all four years in the future, and it’s on this album that we first meet Frank.

    He’s a settled guy, married but with no kids, living in the suburbs and hating it. He has a unique way of dealing with this: he burns down his house. Now, I am not in any way - nor I believe was Waits - advocating you burn down your house and drive off, but taken as a microcosm of Middle American society and the pressures of living up to being a resident of Suburbia, it’s darkly hilarious. Especially the last line. Waits talks about his wife’s dog, some sort of chihuahua that is blind. At the end he grins “Never could stand that dog!”

    The thing about this song is that you really don’t see it coming. Waits talks about Frank’s life - ”They were so happy” (the sarcasm is that line is so thick you couldn’t cut it with the best butcher knife!) - how he’s doing well - ”He sold used office furniture down San Fernando Road” - though he does give us a little clue in the opening line, when he talks about Frank driving a nail through his wife’s forehead, but we’re meant I think to believe that’s metaphorical. The tone of the song remains exactly the same as Frank hits his crisis and burns down the house: Waits speaks the entire song in the same drab, bored voice someone would use who was reading uninteresting information from a cue card. You almost miss the transition. One minute he’s talking about a supposedly happily-married and well-adjusted man, the next he’s describing an arsonist who has obviously snapped.

    It's not made clear in the song whether or not Frank’s wife and dog are in the house when it burns, but I tend to think they are. Acting completely normally, Frank watches the house burn - ”All Halloween orange and chimney red” - then heads off for his new life, putting on a top forty station as he disappears down the Hollywood Freeway.

    ”Frank settled down in the Valley, and he hung his wild years on a nail that he drove through his
    wife's forehead.

    He sold used office furniture out there on San Fernando Road and assumed a $30,000 loan at 15 1/4 % and put a down payment on a little two bedroom place.

    His wife was a spent piece of used jet trash; made good Bloody Marys, kept her mouth shut most of the time, had a little Chihuahua named Carlos that had some kind of skin disease and was totally blind.

    They had a thoroughly modern kitchen; self-cleaning oven (the whole bit)
    Frank drove a little sedan.
    They were so happy.

    One night Frank was on his way home from work, stopped at the liquor store,
    picked up a couple of Mickey's Big Mouth’s.
    Drank 'em in the car on his way to the Shell station; got a gallon of gas in a can.

    Drove home, doused everything in the house: torched it.
    Parked across the street laughing, watching it burn, all Halloween orange and chimney red.

    And Frank put on a top forty station, got on the Hollywood Freeway and headed North.

    Never could stand that dog.”

    "Children’s Story”, from
    Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards, 2006 (ANTI-)

    Based on German playwright Georg Buchner’s play “Woyzeck”, about which I admit I know nothing, this is a tiny little song, not even two minutes long, and again it’s one on which Waits speaks the vocal rather than sings. It’s meant to be a lullaby, but remember this is Waits, so expect it to be dark and not have a happy ending. You can also just about picture him perched on the edge of his grandson, godson or friend’s child’s bed, turning away and trying to dispel the smoke from his cigar while also attempting to get his whiskey cough under control as he relates this “charming little tale” about a boy’s adventures in space.

    To be honest, as I say I have no idea what “Woyzeck” is about, but a quick Wiki search tells me it’s about the “dehumanising effects of doctors”. What exactly that has to do with this nightmarish fairy tale is anyone’s guess, but it’s a story not exactly guaranteed to ensure sweet dreams for children, that’s for sure. Recommend you do not tell it to your kids, unless you want them to be sleeping in with you tonight again!

    A note on the album: it’s a three-disc, three-hour compilation of some rare and unfinished and unused songs Waits wrote over the years, as he says himself: “ 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”

    ”Once upon a time there was a poor child, with no father and no mother,
    And everything was dead
    And no one was left in the whole world;
    Everything was dead.

    And the child went on a search, day and night;
    And since nobody was left on the Earth,
    He wanted to go up into the Heavens
    And the Moon was looking at him so friendly.
    And when he finally got to the Moon,
    the Moon was a piece of rotten wood.

    And then he went to the Sun.
    And when he got there, the Sun was a wilted sunflower.
    And when he got to the stars, they were little golden flies.
    Stuck up there, like the shrike sticks 'em on a blackthorn.

    And when he wanted to go back, down to Earth,
    the earth was an overturned piss pot.
    And he was all alone, and he sat down and he cried.
    And he is there till this day,
    All alone.

    Okay, there's your story!

    “The Piano Has Been Drinking”, from
    Small Change, 1976 (Asylum)

    To be able to play the piano is a real feat: I know, I’ve tried. And failed. But to be able to play the piano badly, deliberately? Well, that takes real talent. If you’ve never heard this song before you need to. Waits plays the piano as if he, and it, are drunk - hitting bum notes, making the wrong key change, and so on - which perfectly complements the lyric. That talks about a man who is so drunk he won’t admit he is, and blames it on everything else: the guy who says “why is this room spinning?” and doesn’t realise that it’s only for him that it moves. It’s hilarious, sad in its way, but total genius as ever.

    He references things we all think when we’re drunk - well, I don’t drink but I know the sort of thing: You can’t find your waitress with a geiger counter/ And she hates you and your friends/ And you just can’t get served without her” and those times when ”The spotlight looks like a prison break”. Everything is anthropomorphised, as he tells us the carpet needs a haircut, the telephone is out of cigarettes and his necktie is asleep. And of course at the end the plaintive cry ”The piano has been drinking … not me.” Pure, 100 percent, 24 carat genius.

    ”The piano has been drinking;
    My necktie is asleep.
    And the combo went back to New York,
    The jukebox has to take a leak.
    And the carpet needs a haircut,
    And the spotlight looks like a prison break.
    'Cause the telephone's out of cigarettes
    And the balcony is on the make.

    And the piano has been drinking.
    The piano has been drinking.

    And the menus are all freezing;
    And the light man's blind in one eye
    And he can't see out of the other.
    And the piano-tuner's got a hearing aid
    And he showed up with his mother.

    And the piano has been drinking.
    The piano has been drinking.

    'Cause the bouncer is a sumo wrestler:
    Cream puff Casper Milquetoast.
    And the owner is a mental midget
    With the I.Q. of a fencepost.

    'Cause the piano has been drinking.
    The piano has been drinking.

    And you can't find your waitress
    With a geiger counter
    And she hates you and your friends
    And you just can't get served without her.

    And the box-office is drooling
    And the bar stools are on fire.
    And the newspapers were fooling
    And the ash-trays have retired

    'Cause the piano has been drinking.
    The piano has been drinking.
    The piano has been drinking.
    Not me, not me, not me, not me, not me.”
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989

    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  4. #24
    Offline: Depressed Trollheart's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2019
    Where the sour turns to sweet
    Before I go on to the next current release, I realise I missed out two of Waits’s albums as I prepared to move on, so I need to check those out now. 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 (Bizarre/Manifesto)

    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 Man”, 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.


    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.
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989

    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  5. #25
    Offline: Depressed Trollheart's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2019
    Where the sour turns to sweet
    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 (Bizarre/Manifesto)

    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 he shuffled along on “I’m Your Late Night Evening Prostitute” and, to a smaller extent, “Goin’ Down Slow”. It’s something of a disappointment for an artist 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 bass line 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 turns 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.


    1.Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love with Uou
    2.Ol’ 55
    3.Mockin’ Bird
    4.In Between Love
    5.Blue Skies
    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.
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989

    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  6. #26
    Offline: Depressed Trollheart's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2019
    Where the sour turns to sweet
    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 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 (Island)

    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 on saw (yeah, I said saw: this is Waits, after all!) 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 further 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 one 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 in effect collaborate (as Burroughs wrote the lyric) 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. 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.


    1.Lucky Day Overture
    2.The Black Rider
    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
    15.Gospel Train
    17.Oily Night
    18.Lucky Day
    19.The Last Rose of Summer

    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. And for better or worse, I’m not one of those people who will pretend to like an album just because it’s by an artist I love. I faced this “long dark night of the soul”, to completely over-dramatise it, with Marillion and also with Genesis, and other artists too, so much as I love him, Waits don’t get a pass. Nobody does.

    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.
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989

    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  7. #27
    Offline: Depressed Trollheart's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2019
    Where the sour turns to sweet
    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 (Island)

    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 and 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. Wait (hah!) no, I’m wrong: that honour goes to “29$” from Blue Valentine, which clocks in over eight minutes. Silly me. Second longest then.

    “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” whereas 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’ll be covering the genius that is “What's He Building?” shortly in my The Word According to Waits feature, but suffice to say it's one of his oddest, best, and most disturbing songs when you read between the lines, seething with paranoia and suspicion, fear and danger, and certainly a standout on the album, perhaps my favourite.

    “Black Market Baby” slides along with its hands thrust deep into its pockets, 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 turntable 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!


    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.
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989

    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  8. #28
    Quote Originally Posted by Trollheart View Post
    While normally I would tend not to include movie soundtracks in discographies, this time there are a few reasons for breaking that rule. First off, you're usually talking about an instrumental-only affair, with possibly music from other artistes on it. Second, the music is usually not all written by the artist in question and has little relevance to their own collection. None of these apply to the next album. Waits wrote all the songs and music for it, and not only that, it was while recording this album that he was to meet the love of his life, future wife and songwriting partner, Kathleen Brennan. Add to that the fact that he collaborates with Crystal Gayle on some of the tracks (she is solo on some, but even then he's writing the music and lyrics) and you really have an album you can't overlook.

    So I won't.

    “One from the Heart” Original Soundtrack --- 1982

    Written for a movie that's far less sublime than its music is, “One from the Heart” (the movie) is a massive disappointment, the more surprising when you consider that the great Francis Ford Coppola himself directs it. But at its heart (hah!) it's an awkward story of the love between two people and the trials they go through. Having loved this album, and wanting to hear how it translated within the movie, I watched it and was left with a feeling of an hour and a half wasted: the movie was formulaic drivel basically, but the music: ah, that's something else entirely. Step this way, my friend.

    There's a typical Waits piano line opening the album, kind of reminds me of “I Never Talk to Strangers”, then Waits's voice is low and hoarse, counterpointed by the clear tones of Crystal Gayle, and they duet beautifully on the last line, before the brass section takes the song, following some nice strings conducted by the almost by now permanent fixture Bob Alcivar, as we move into a sleazy blues tune with jazz overtones for the second part of the introduction, “The Wages of Love”, Waits and Gayle again duetting. Lyrically it's a dark song as Gayle sings "Firmly believe love was designed/ To exploit and deceive” and it moves slowly along with sax and trumpet and soft percussion, into the first solo song from Crystal Gayle.

    It's only a short one, just over two minutes, but it's a beautiful ode to love lost as she sings “Is There Any Way Out of This Dream?” with Waits on the piano, her soulful voice lighting up the composition. Although Waits does not sing on this you can hear his songwriting genius in lines like ”Let's take a hammer to it/ There's no glamour in it” and ”Summer is dragging its feet/ I feel so incomplete.” There's also some a lovely tenor sax solo taking the song into its conclusion. Then Gayle remains behind the mike but is joined by Waits for a classic as he argues the benefits of his lifestyle and she snaps at his untidiness in “Picking Up After You”. Waits at his most sleazy is brilliant in this, as he groans ”Looks like you spent the night in a trench” and she sneers back ”The roses are dead/ And the violets are too.”

    It's a slow, jazzy number with blues overtones, driven on sprinkly piano and trumpet, the two singers doing a great job communicating the idea of a couple really sick of the worst side of each other, and ready to split up. Gayle then takes the next song solo, for the slow, moody “Old Boyfriends”, with a country lilt and again piano backed, electric piano I think or maybe celeste, not sure. You can almost hear the cracks appearing in her heart as she sings ”They look you up/ When they're in town/ To see if they can / Still burn you down” while there's some lovely reflective electric guitar sliding in and out of the tune too. But the album's highlight comes next, and it's Waits in his best Blue Valentine mood, in fact this song could have been on that album. “Broken Bicycles” draws a great but not obvious parallel between a lover and a bicycle rusting in a garden yard. ”Broken bicycles” sings Waits, ”Old busted chains/ Rusted handlebars out in the rain/ Somebody must have an orphanage for/ These things that nobody wants anymore.” Superb.

    The song is driven on an almost classical piano line, slow and evocative with Waits's vocal soft and close to muttered, a great sadness hanging around it as he sighs ”Summer is gone/ But my love will remain/ Like old broken bicycles/ Out in the rain.” An absolutely beautiful song, a masterpiece both of unexpected imagery and heart-wrenching emotion, and definitely the highlight of this album for me. Also the point at which, rather unfortunately, it begins for me to dip.

    “I Beg Your Pardon” is another piano ballad, based I feel something along the lines of “Cinny's Waltz” with a certain cinematic feel to it, Alcivar's strings really adding another layer to it as Waits sings ”You are the landscape of my dreams” but it's when “Little Boy Blue” begins that I start to lose a little interest and from here on it's much lower par than it should have been. I have nothing but good things to say about the first half of the album, but with a few exceptions it's hard to find much complimentary to say about the closing half. I guess you could make the case that the first half is the “old “ Tom Waits we heard on albums like Closing Time, Foreign Affairs and Blue Valentine, whereas what surfaces on the second half is a little more experimental, a bit more avant-garde jazz, the kind of ideas he would bring into his next proper album.

    He met Kathleen during the recording of this album, but I don't know if she helped him or gave him any ideas on it; if so then you could possibly attribute the sudden change here to her influence. With a bouncy, finger-clickin' bass line that harks a little back to “Romeo is Bleeding”, “Little Boy Blue” is driven on hard-edged organ from Ronnie Barron, with Waits's vocal again low-key, the sort of song a man sings with his collar turned up and with his hat down over his eyes. His penchant for plundering nursery rhyme really comes into its own here as he sings ”Little Boy Blue/ Come blow your horn/ Dish ran away with the spoon” and later sings of Bo Peep and other childhood favourites. The song ends on a rather frenetic organ solo and piles into “Instrumental Montage (The Tango/Circus Girl)” with the first part being, not surprisingly given the title, a tango on the piano with some wild saxophone being added by the returning Gene Cipriano, a soft little piano run then taking it into a carnival waltz which would later resurface on Frank's Wild Years, five years later.

    “You Can't Unring a Bell” is backed by some pretty amazing thunderous percussion and some spooky guitar, with Waits often speaking the lyric like a monologue, while Crystal Gayle returns to accompany him on what is essentially the title track . I feel the melody on “This One's from the Heart” sails very close to that from “Picking Up After You”, and perhaps that's intentional, as it's the reconciliation song which mirrors the trouble in that song, or at least the hope that it can be sorted out. Gayle is wonderful on this, and it's not hard to see why she is regarded as one of country's first ladies. I'm not sure what the link is or how they came to be working together, but it's a pity this was the only time they did, as they really are one hell of a team. Perhaps Kathleen put her foot down after they were married?

    Like much on this album, it's a slow, romantic, moody ballad, and it's followed by another, the last vocal track, which oddly enough, but given the conclusion of the film, is sung by Gayle solo as she forgives her lover and asks to be reunited with him in “Take Me Home”. It's a short song, just over a minute and a half, and with a very simple lyric: ”Take me home/ You silly boy/ Cos I'm still in love/ With you.” We end then on a glockenspiel instrumental as “Presents” revisits the melody of the previous song, a mere minute of music but quite effective. Interesting point for you trivia fans: it's played by Joe Porcaro, father of Toto brothers Jeff, Mike and Steve. Nice low-key ending, though with all respect to Joe, I'm not entirely sure how essential it was to run the same melody twice.


    1. Opening Montage (Tom's Piano Intro/Once Upon a Town/The Wages of Love)
    2. Is There Any Way Out of This Dream?
    3. Picking Up After You
    4. Old Boyfriends
    5. Broken Bicycles
    6. I Beg Your Pardon
    7. Instrumental Montage (The Tango/Circus Girl)
    8. Little Boy Blue
    9. You Can't Unring a Bell
    10. This One's from the Heart
    11. Take Me Home
    12. Presents

    As film soundtracks go, this is one of the best I've heard that has been all composed by the one musician, and which is not all instrumental. It's hard to capture the feel of a movie like this, and even though “One from the Heart” is, as I recall, a very basic and boring movie with a predictable ending, perhaps that's a good reason for Waits to have scored it. Not that it's predictable, but that it deals at its heart with human relationships and the darker side of emotions, and shows that the world is not a fairytale. There are songs here which deserve to go down as Waits classics, and you don't often say that about film soundtracks, or I don't anyway.

    In addition, being the backdrop for that fateful meeting with the woman he would eventually marry and who would become his muse for, well, the rest of his life, this album holds a special place in the discography of Tom Waits. It may not be perfect, and it may be the soundtrack to a film I would advise nobody to watch, but it truly does in fact live up to its name. It's also a great chance to see Waits duet, which happens so rarely, and sure if you're a fan of Crystal Gayle (and who isn't) then there's something for you here too.
    I listened to the album. This one is from the heart is the best song on it seems by a wide margin. It is also the longest track on the cd soundtrack and has the same title almost one from the heart. I reccommend that song in particular to others. Crystal gayle has a good voice and with tom waits' voice adds to the song. Picture in a frame is catchy. I appreciate the recommendations. I will visit this thread once in a while in case I missed a song.
    I would follow as in believe in the words of good moral leaders. Rather than the beliefs of oneself.
    The most difficult thing for a writer to comprehend is to experience silence, so speak up. (quoted from a member)

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