Hey, it’s local crazy percussionist slash guy Mr. Crazyvoice Tom Waits! But it’s that man from a land before time, when he sounded like a touching, idiosyncratic composer of sad piano-led songs.
It all sounds very odd, coming from a man you thought you knew. This is good stuff, though, just specific stuff. This is noir music, music for leaving lovers’ houses, music for red wine and cigarettes and staring out the windows, music for afternoons walking down major streets. Basic stuff, too: just vocals, piano, guitar, standup bass, a rare mournful violin and some loungey horns. There’s nothing fast or exciting here, it’s all at least somewhat pensive. And yes, it does sounds more than a bit lost in the late twenties, somewhere in Los Angeles or New York. The songs play like tales to an old bartender friend.
Sometimes it’s hackneyed (“I hope that I don’t fall in love with you / Falling in love always leaves me blue”) but the lyrics aren’t usually the essence, or gist. These songs are about the feelings, that noir, smokestained, exhausted lovesickness. And so when they are about the lyrics they’re the best songs on here. “Ol’ 55” shakes the titular auto motif to find a brilliant chorus evoking the sun rising on a freeway, and “Martha” is the best song here, a really, really sad song of a man calling his old high school flame, not necessarily to get back together. She’s married, he’s married, they’re both doing fine, he just reminisces about how they used to be children and now they’re mature, obviously feeling like the same person he used to be and wondering if she feels the same, and knowing she probably isn’t. Yeah, that song gets me. I hope I never have moments of regretting my lost teen days. I don’t think it’s a risk, but I can see myself missing my twenties easily. Missing my Tom Waits days, and I mean these loungey albums, back to now when I’m free to enjoy drama and hope and hair and go to bed with someone with smooth skin.
Yeah, there’s a lot of what seems like filler but likely wasn’t. The closing instrumental is pretty awesome. What’s strange about this debut is that it sounds way too mature and assured for a debut album. It feels fine forging a quiet, moody mood, contains no big hits, and sounds content to swim around in its own mood not going anywhere for minutes at a time. The lone jaunty song is a two-minute creeper called “Ice Cream Man” sandwiched between ever shorter catchy instrumental pieces. The thematic heart of the album is a song basically of Tom playing two chords over and over singing “Lonely. Lonely. Lonely.”
So yeah, there’s a lot of less impressive songs, and a bit of oversinging. It sounds like a musician’s music, not like a debut from a man probably sick with worry and apprehension over his future making music; probably worried he’s have to spend the next ten years tending bars or lifting crates or selling insurance. Or maybe he was all smug and inherited wealth and didn’t care, and came to music as a joke and succeeded where so many have failed, again proving the fundamental unfairness of the world. It burns! “Little Trip To Heaven (On the Wings of Your Love)”? That’s an awful title and you should be ashamed of yourself! But it’s your first album, and “Ol’ 55” is so nice. Aww, “Martha”. Aw, the overrated “Grapefruit Moon” (“Grapefruit Moon / Tom Waits album”). Extra points for gestalt effect, for sure.
8 / 10