Tom Waits – Swordfishtrombone

Yes, because everyone knows what a swordfishtrombone is, right? I do! No, I don’t. What the fuck is a Jewfishwopbone?

This is where the Tom Waits we all know and love comes from, provided you’re capable of things like hope and love, which I sometimes wonder about myself. Gone is the often-brilliant Tom-dub vaguely conventional lounge singer, in is the often-brilliant Tom-dub with the percussion that sounds like kitchen obejcts being clanged against tables and songs about whatever goes through Thomas’ mind. This is on a new record label and it seems like he went union if you know what I mean. Got his seniority and decided that Tom Waits is gonna sing about what Tom Waits wanna sing about. And there’s more marimba than piano.

Yes, Tom the Americana Carnivale troubadour is now here. Hey, why do all the characters in Tom Waits songs sound just like Tom Waits? There are a few too many instrumentals, but this stuff is about such weird stuff. Aside from one song about losing a girl it’s all a matter of writing about quiet parts that deserve to be written. I know, I’ll quote the entire lyric of “Frank’s Wild Years”:

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 1/4 % 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 of Mickey’s Big Mouth’s.
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.

Frank put on a top forty station,
got on the Hollywood Freeway
headed North.

Never could stand that dog

He also clears his throat. There’s also a lament for a small town losing its only bar. There’s also a tale of a lost soldier told through the scene at a garage sale. For fuck’s sake, the lost and unspoken tears and misery in the box of one dollar possessions, and fuck, “In The Neighbourhood”, the only song with normal drums and a normal chorus, just a litany of complaints about how a neighbourhood ain’t what it used to be from a disgruntled resident, and the keyboards and the catchiness and the emotions. Nostalgia and curmudgeoning and realism.

So what the fuck? Tom didn’t totally have his shit together yet about being experimental and all those meanders and scarlet alphabets but the dumpsters and the sadness and the plates of meat at a wake when you’re vegetarian. Nice to have songwriting talent to burn, isn’t it Tom? But we’re all glad. This is real stuff all of a sudden. Not that it was unreal, but this is calling stuff. This is pornography and this is art. More important: this is music.This is great.

8/10

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