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The New Tom Waits Album is Really Good. Go Figure.

Posted by November 7th, 2004 No Comments »

Tom Waits: Real Gone
Anti Records
By Graham Isaac

As I’m sure is the case with most reviewer types, there are a few artists I have a hard time rating, since even a mediocre album by their standards likely surpasses many a “great” album by other bands.

Tom Waits is the poster boy for this sort of critical inequity, as even his weakest efforts maintain a uniqueness of voice and vision. Even his failed experiments are worth hearing once.

The number rating you’ll find a couple of paragraphs down tries to take this into consideration; while I’m tempted to throw down a 9.5 or a 10 just for the sheer awesomeness of this album’s highlights, there are those who’s interest in Tom Waits is more tempered than mine, and they deserve to know where this album should fall on their priority list.

Tom Waits: Real Gone
Anti Records
By Graham Isaac

As I’m sure is the case with most reviewer types, there are a few artists I have a hard time rating, since even a mediocre album by their standards likely surpasses many a “great” album by other bands.

Tom Waits is the poster boy for this sort of critical inequity, as even his weakest efforts maintain a uniqueness of voice and vision. Even his failed experiments are worth hearing once.

The number rating you’ll find a couple of paragraphs down tries to take this into consideration; while I’m tempted to throw down a 9.5 or a 10 just for the sheer awesomeness of this album’s highlights, there are those who’s interest in Tom Waits is more tempered than mine, and they deserve to know where this album should fall on their priority list.

The answer depends which Tom Waits you prefer; the singer songwriter found on Alice and much of Mule Variations is largely eschewed here in favor of the darker, weirder voices expressed on 1992’s seminal Bone Machine. There are no smoky, jazz inflected piano numbers (indeed, no piano to be found at all) and even the few acoustic guitar-centered tracks are built around a ceaseless rhythm. The notable exception being the album’s gentle near-closer, “The Day After Tommorrow.”

While Real Gone lacks the encompassing darkness and claustrophobia of Bone Machine, sonically it’s even busier, incorporating turntable scratches, static-y guitar breaks and Wait’s own sort of beat boxing. The result is a largely organic wall of noise that helps set this apart from some of Wait’s sparer rhythm work.

The album is not infallible, however. At points it just gets too weird to actually (as opposed to theoretically) enjoy, and “Sons of My Father” only earns six of it’s eleven minutes, while “Circus” feels more like the obligatory spoken-word track than anything inspired.

Nonetheless, on cuts like opener “Top of the Hill,” the cacophony of multi-layered vocals creates a groove that works its way into your brain until it’s almost danceable. Elsewhere, “Green Grass” finds Waits at his most darkly moving as a songwriter.

While this album will definitely put some listeners off with it’s oddness, that’s really what Tom Waits is for. In time, they’ll come around. (8.5/10)


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