Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Tom Waits - Swordfishtrombones, album review

Sublime Pound and Growl

Waits’ 1983 album, this is all pulsing percussion, plucked strings [guitar, double-bass, other], eclectic poundings, errant noises, growls, howls, cries – listen to the wailing of Shore Leave – organ pumps, delicate piano strains/bar-room piano strains, distinctive hammering on metal – listen to 16 Shells From A 30.6 - and consummate storytelling.

That storytelling owes much to Burroughs in its surrealism, but also Carver in its observations on the ordinariness of life within the other extremes of the narrating. Waits has observed of Burroughs: ‘I love Burroughs. He’s like a metal desk. He’s like a still, and everything that comes out of him is already whiskey’.

Here’s a bourbon hit from one of the finest songs and storytellings on the album:

Frank's Wild Years

Well 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% 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 Mickey's Big Mouths
drank 'em in the car on his way
to the Shell station, he 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 then
Frank put on a top forty station
got on the Hollywood Freeway
headed North

Never could stand that dog

There is considerable prettiness within many of the wildest songs, but for pure plaintive beauty, Town With No Cheer is superb. This is closely followed by the horn-driven glory of In The Neighbourhood. A sublime album. 

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