As much as it suits my narrative to claim that the late 1970s and early 1980s were difficult for Tom Waits, Blue Valentine is a solid album between two of Waits’ weaker efforts. Blue Valentine is Waits’ story-telling album, with tales like ‘Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis’; even when the arrangements are routine, Waits’ lyrics are often outstanding. Compared to previous albums there’s more lead guitar than previously, and Waits is also using electric piano for the first time.
The album opener doesn’t fit with the rest of the record, but it’s surprisingly effective; a straightforward, sentimental cover of ‘Somewhere’ from West Side Story, where Waits’ raspy vocal contrasts against the schmaltzy strings to beautiful effect. ‘Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis’ is memorable enough to merit its wonderful title, while ‘Kentucky Avenue’ is beautiful with its piano and strings. I’m less enamoured by the upbeat blues songs, even if they’re fun, but the closing ‘Blue Valentines’ is unique with Waits’ vocal only accompanied by a lead guitar.
Tom Waits’ final albums with Asylum aren’t very convincing to me overall, but Blue Valentine is the highlight and worth becoming acquainted with.