Tom Waits – Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards

Our favourite Christian-rocker is back, this time with an album with the most excellent title ever. I mean, duuude! That’s a wicked-ass title! If you don’t agree you’re probably a fuckin’ choad.

So here’s the wacky concept: here there are three albums, and they’re divided, as the title suggests, in twain: the first album is rockier songs, the second sadder songs, and the third spoken-word-led numbers and other oddballs, of which Tom’s amassed a lot.

So, it’s impressive that there’s firty-five outtakes here at all. And I mean firty.

But first! Let me tell you this hilarious joke that’s new to me! So, a priest and a rabbi are sitting on a bench in a park and a young boy walks by. The priest looks over at the boy and says to the rabbi “…Wanna fuck him?” And the rabbi replies “…Out of what?” HEE!

But second, let me review this Tom Waits triple-album. The first CD and second aren’t actually that dissimilar, because a brawling Tom Waits sounds like he’s about to bawl and vice-versa, but fine, fine, the brawlers: the single off Brawlers was the opener, the Elvis-y “Lie To Me” that I consider overrated and meh. I’d call it a bait-and-switch, because few songs on here sound anything like each other, forgettable as many of them may be. And “meh” is about as bad as the songs here can get, with the exceptions of the outtakes from “Real Gone”, an album with far too many failed beatboxing experiments already. Tom does kinda sound like he can brawl here; it might be the combination of old Tom and new Tom (or young Tom and old Tom) makes him sound unstable, and an unstable man with that growl…I wouldn’t want to mess with an unstable man with this many problems. And yeah, it all sounds pretty problematic. Nothing seems to be going right in WaitsWorld! But that’s all right, when I want to be uplifted and Tom Waits I’ll listen to “Come On Up to the House” and “Hawaii Five Oh.” And no, most of these songs are clangy non-classics, but what do you expect from bloody outtakes, all covered in blood and shit and piss and cum? But speaking of classics, I prefer the unusual mandolin-and-bongo “Bottom of the World” (though what kind of father tells his son “the best friend you’ll have is a railroad track”?), quasi-gospel “Lord I’ve Been Changed”, and album-highlight “Rains On Me”, with its easy, angry/hopeless message and catchiness. Also for consideration is the lengthy “Road To Peace”, an outright discussion-of-current-politics song about the difficulties making peace bee slash dubya the Israelis and Palestinians. I think it’s a nice attempt to be even-handed (a unusual stance from a political song), but I think it’s unfair to Israel by a hair. Take what you will. There’s also a Ramones cover and two “Real Gone” songs stinking up the joint.

The second album are the bawlers, titled Bawlers. The first half of the album is mostly songs that sound like parts from “Mule Variations” that I therefore like, and the second half boring piano ballads. The first ones, songs like “Long Way Home” (a slightly worse “Hold On” and therefore still great) and “Fannin Street” really hit the sadness buttons and make everything correct, but there are still too many meh songs. Sadness has an important place in listening to Tom Waits, but he does tend to get a bit theatrical and go from depressing to campy, so it comes out a bit over eight million slow sad songs in a row. There’s also a stupid couple carnival-songs here, which turn my shit white with indifference. Still, most of the songs that get blendy are great on their own – “World Keeps Turning” is playing now and is almost making me cry into my wine in my lonely apartment and I know “It’s Over” and “Jayne’s Blue Wish” are about the same for sadness. Here’s what I need to do tomorrow because I’ve fucked up doing it the last two days: volunteer to run for political office, submit my book to its first agent, email a story to a friend/editor, tell my friend snarkily about the ADA’s opinion of pregnant vegans (positive), schedule a haircut (my first in five months). Hopefully a job I’m very close to getting will call back. I don’t like the album-ending closing cover of “Young At Heart”.

The last album makes the sequencing most troubling. Tom Waits being a barking spoken-worder is great, but twenty songs of it in a row gets tiresome. Only a few real songs break the monotony, and it doesn’t help that the whole CD is only 6/10-worthy. You’ll want to do a lot of skippin’-and-shortenin’. And I mean cooking with shortening, because mm, Crisco makes wonderful cookies. Did you know the word exists because “short” used to be a synonym for “crumbly?” Anyway, the highlights here are “Children’s Story”, a hilarious yet miserable shoot the shaggy dog story that starts with “Once upon a time there was a child with no father and no mother / And everyone was dead”, over a cheesy Casiotone melody. Er, comma, “Heigh Ho”, the dwarves’ work song from “Snow White” re-imagined and darkened until it sounds like a clanging slave melody, “Army Ants” (at least the first eight times you hear it and don’t have it memorized), a collection of interesting bug facts narrated by Tom Waits and therefore great, “Nirvana”, another story-”song” but written by Charles Bukowski (and thus possessed of better poetry than most) “Two Sisters”, Tom Waits’ greatest Stan Rogers-y shanty. The problem is that the stories get tiresome after a few listens. The “Real Gone”-ites have this issue, of course. The “bonus tracks” – one about how silly it is to sell bull testicles as dog treats, and another just a good yarn. But speaking of which, thanks a lot for including “bonus tracks” but not the SIX extra tracks that come with the vinyl edition. Sad, sad marketing.

There’s a lot of material here, and I like that. I don’t know about the sequencing, it hurts the last part, but it’s not a huge probem, and I mean probem. The songs are universally sad, but it you want happen then listen to John Denver, not an album called “Orphans.” Tom Waits is great, able to conjure emotion with a line, and I’m drunk on a Wednesday.

But third, let me share another hilarious joke you may not have heard:

Q: What separates man from animals?

A: The Mediterranean!

But seriously, swimming in the Mediterranean is super great.



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