Whaaaattttttwwwaaaattttaaaaaahhw? No, no, this isn’t Canada this is fucking England isn’t it this isn’t America. Do you know how irritating it is to be a sick alcoholic? This will make two nights in a row of abstaining for the sake of my health, and it still might not help me pass as a healthy lab rat tomorrow, which I need to do for my financial safety. Oh, I’ll probably make it through with a maximum of embarrassing coughing and hacking phlegm as I try to exhale strongly enough to be injected with ToleroMune, in front of the unusual cadre of attractive Indian nurses and the one really friendly doctor, all of whom will be somewhat scared straight of smiling when they see me. Smoking hurts my throat and I have to reduce myself to one just before bed, and my head hurts from desiring sweet sweet booze. Oh, and I’m also sick, meaning I hack yellow phlegm every ten minutes and feel exhausted in the morning. And I made a squash-carrot-ginger soup that’s lackluster, yet now I have half a squash, good only for making more soup and so I’m doomed to eat it through next week.
And here is Tom Waits, still sounding like a wise, smoother crooner, telling stories of nights where the men wear ties and the women wear dresses and the bartenders know your name. Well, I dig the atmosphere, really I do, but those things don’t exist in my world (except for the girls wearing dresses), so the songs had better make up for it. They did last album, but they don’t here. Somewhere between stand-up bass and saxophone solo too many songs cross the border from cool into schmaltz, and schmaltz around in schmaltztown sounding like jazz standards.
Maybe it’s the second album flu? Cat got your singles? Piano infection? There were glorious songs previously, but there’s nothing like “Ol’ 55” or “Martha” here, just the clever “Fumblin’ With the Blues” and the sombre “The Heart of Saturday Night”, and they aren’t enough. Maybe my problem is that for all he tries, I don’t think this album does capture the heart or ghost of Saturday night. It skims it, flips through the biography or some such, but thirty years later it sounds like an ugly sweater that you wear once or twice but give away once grandpa dies. Saturday night isn’t about violins and “shiver me timbers” and pulling into town on the Interstate. It’s about streetcars filled with laughing girls and unfriendly bouncers and getting drunk enough to sing songs at strangers with your friends. It’s about seeing a movie with your partner and bitching about the plot holes and giggling and holding them in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other, not the crack of pool balls in half-empty old-man bars. Not that that isn’t a lovely song.
I digress. Does anyone even use the word “barmaid” anymore? I remember “Ghosts of Saturday Night” being a good song but I can’t bring it to mind, so it must be pleasant at best. At it’s one of the best-known songs on here! “Depot, Depot” or “Diamonds on My Windshield” just breeze by. Not that noir Tom Wiats won’t be missed; it’s fun imagining him playing the piano all night. Okay, on relistening, “Ghosts of Saturday Night” is pretty brilliant, even if uncatchy. Tom couldn’t nail a Saturday, but he sure understood the aftermath.