Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Album Review: Tom Waits - Swordfishtrombones

For those used to Tom Waits' seventies albums 1983's Swordfishtrombones must be quite jarring.  Supposedly the beginning of 'difficult' Waits, in truth this album has its accessible moments.  Not the opener, Underground though.  It's a kind of growly, stumpy march, and it's followed up by the bone-rattling blues of Shore Leave.  Half spoken, half sung, it's a creepy song with some chilling Vietnam era imagery ("I shopped at the corner on cold chow mein and shot billiards with a midget").

Dave the Butcher is one of several instrumentals, this one with a warped fairground feel, while Just Another Sucker On The Vine's horns conjure up the last day of the carnival.  Closing track Rainbirds uses a glass harmonica with piano and bass to perform one of the prettier pieces of music here.

Johnsburg, Illnois and In The Neighbourhood will be comfortable territory for anybody used to Waits' barfly ballads.  16 Shells From A 30.6 and Down, Down, Down are down and dirty growly blues.  Town With No Cheer opens curiously, with bagpipes before Waits' paints a bleak picture.  Swordfishtrombone itself is a kind of slinky blues, in the vein of Shore Leave. It wouldn't be a Tom Waits album without an emotional wallop, and he delivers here on Soldier's Things, a mainly piano-based lament of the returned hero selling off his mementos - "and everything's a dollar in this box".

Overall the effect is of an album musically all over the place, the disparate songs linked by a loose Vietnam war connection.