Tom Waits Album Reviews
In New Zealand we have a sporting cliche, “a game of two halves”. This certainly applies to Tom Waits’ musical career too. For the first ten years of his recording career, he was a singer songwriter, often on the piano, but with influences of jazz and blues. Waits often wrote about life as a barfly and as the 1970s went on his lyrics and his voice became more soaked in alcohol and cigarettes. His voice became a lugubrious growl, not unlike Louis Armstrong’s.
By 1980, Waits’ career had plateaued, as artistically he hadn’t topped early albums like Closing Time and Small Change. But in 1980 he married Kathleen Brennan, who served as a collaborator and who introduced Waits to outsider music like Captain Beefheart. Waits released Swordfishtrombones in 1983, which employed unusual instruments like marimbas, accordions,and junkyard percussion. This approach ushered in Waits’ most artistically satisfying era and has formed the template for Waits’ subsequent work.
Waits has enjoyed a long and storied career, but his career highlights are generally held to include 1983’s Swordfishtrombones and 1985’s Rain Dogs, and his subsequent albums from the 1980s and 1990s are also excellent. I’ve found Waits’ output since 2000 less engrossing, and he’s released little since 2006’s excellent Orphans set, but he’s built up such an amount of critical kudos that each new release receives rapturous attention.
Waits has also dabbled in acting, and in song it often feels like he’s also projecting a persona. Even though his growled vocals can be affecting, it often feels like a shtick rather than a heartfelt display of emotion. his shtick also covers up what a capable musician he is – while his growling voice and clanging give him a unique angle, he’s also an astute musician. Tom Waits has remained a vibrant creative force longer than most pop musicians, and his lengthy catalogue has plenty of gems.
Ten Favourite Tom Waits’ Songs
I Hope I Don’t Fall In Love With You
Whistle Down The Wind
Tom Traubert’s Blues
Come On Up To The House
Goin’ Out West
Never Let Go