First Appeared in The Music Box, January 2005, Volume 12, #1
Written by John Metzger
Tom Waitsí albums are admittedly an acquired taste. For more than 20 years, heís enshrouded his songs within a blanket of dilapidated, junkyard-derived atmospherics, and when combined with his snarling rasp of a voice, his sculpted, aural collages have served primarily to color his lyrics with an extraordinarily unsettling air. Itís what has made his music so unique, so exceptional, so strange, and so challenging. Heís long worked around the fringes of popular culture, but lest one believe he simply is content to play the same parlor trick time and time again, his latest effort Real Gone finds the artisan delving even deeper into his self-styled sea of sound, jettisoning his piano and his antique instrumentation for an array of pre-recorded vocal effects that grunt and groan in the background like ancient industrial machinery. Bits of hip-hop, dub reggae, and Afro-Cuban beats merge seamlessly with his peculiar brand of molten country-blues, and the result is a deliriously deranged blast of ragged, noisy, rhythmic mayhem. Cut through the clatter, however, and one is likely to find shades of Waitsí earlier endeavors buried amidst the rubble, most notably on the melodic beauty and haunted balladry of Dead and Lovely, Green Grass, and Real Goneís most straight-forward tune Day after Tomorrow, which offers a bleak look at life on warís front line. Itís here that Waits puts a more human face upon his abrasive musings, and itís here that he draws the listener into his cerebral swirl of sonic dissonance, thereby opening the door to the salvation-seeking howl of Make It Rain as well as the devilish darkness that lurks within Donít Go into that Barnís menacing rant. For certain, Waits hasnít tempered his style one bit, and if anything, he is now making music that is even more difficult to embrace. With its politically-charged lyrics and disorienting grooves, Real Gone may appear, at first glance, to be an insurmountable obstacle, but Waitsí defiance of familiar patterns is refreshing, and his arrangements ultimately become both alluring and rewarding, making the collection another gem in his already formidable canon.
Real Gone is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2005 The Music Box