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4.6 out of 5 stars
Foreign Affairs
Format: Audio CDChange
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 11 January 2010
Foreign Affairs was one of the first albums by Tom Waits I'd bought, adding to Rain Dogs, Swordfishtrombones and Small Change in my fledgling Waits collection. As my love, and somewhat obsession, of his music grew, and every album of his hefty back catalogue sits proudly in my CD rack, Foreign Affairs always stuck out in my mind, in my opinion, the finest of all his works.
The black and white cover of Waits and his then girlfriend Rickie Lee Jones sets an appropriate mood for the whole album, a real sense of noir and night that accompanies the songs. Cinny's Waltz kicks off the proceedings with its lush strings, a beautiful instrumental with a jazzy melancholy and wonder, and heart-melting horns. The lonely deadbeat lament of Muriel follows, a song that befits the persona that Waits had created, a drunk's outpouring for an old flame in a track peppered with regret and remorse. I Never Talk To Strangers is arguably the album's most famous track, a sparring duet with Bette Midler in a barroom arena, as Waits' attempted smooth talkin' of his target leads to a trade of insults between the two, tho the ballad ends with the singers in harmony with each other. The Jack and Neal Medley is a brilliant piece of beat spoken word against a double bass and horns backdrop, a great homage to Kerouac and Cassidy and their boisterous behaviour on the road, before the reflective side of Waits appears again with A Sight For Sore Eyes, originally an outtake from Small Change which slots in nicely, as the song's narrator catches up on the lives and loves of his hometown compadres over a few drinks. The stunning Potter's Field is pure cinematic wonder, an epic track which chronicles the death of the character nightsticks from the point of view of the sleazy criminal narrator, backed by a full orchestra and a majestic score which clocks nearly nine minutes of drama. The stories continue with Burma Shave, as Waits and a sole piano tell the tale of a juvenile delinquent jumping his parole, who is joined by a young beauty wishing to escape her mundane small town. The track is beautiful and emotive, just Tom and the ivories for over six minutes before the horn kicks in to herald the songs devastating end. Barber Shop is a cheeky little ditty with overtones of Step Right Up, a smirking exchange between a barber and his young customer, before the album concludes with one of Waits' most underrated works. The not quite title track Foreign Affair is a beautiful piece of poetry concerning the romance of travel, the words are exquisite, as is the lush backing music of strings and eventual accordion, the track is the perfect end to an absolutely stunning album.
Foreign Affairs is probably Waits' most underrated album, Small Change always takes centre stage of his Asylum years, and his 80s trilogy of Swordfishtrombones, Rain Dogs, and Frank's Wild Years are arguably the three jewels in his crown. Tho in my opinion, Foreign Affairs is his finest work, it conveys a mood that fits Waits' boho-beat persona better than any other album, and is incredibly dramatic and noir, songs like Potter's Field and Burma Shave reminiscent of old movies from times past. No Waits' collection is complete without it, and for newcomers, is a pretty good starting point, although Rain Dogs is probably a more rounded collection to begin a love affair with an artist that is truly unique, one that I doubt will ever be comparable to any other, the prince of melancholy. :-)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Capping a fabulous run of albums that featured a fairly stable team of jazzers, whilst this isn't the final instalment of Waits' love affair with his jazzy Tin Pan Alley persona (that was to come in the form of the album that is both the sound track to a Coppola movie, and a standalone masterpiece - One From The Heart - which was itself inspired by a track from this album) it was the last in a consecutive string of releases built around the relatively stable team of bassist Jim Hughart and the incomparable Shelly Manne, on drums. Whilst Howe and Alcivar remained in the Waits orbit for a little longer, Hughart and Manne would only make the one return (for the aforementioned 'One From The Heart'), so this is really the document of the end of an era in the Waits story, the next chapter destined to be more raw, bluesy and electric, with albums like Blue Valentines and Heartattack And Vine.

As well as ending an era of collaboration, it also finds Waits' partnership with arranger Bob Alcivar hitting a kind of cinematic peak (again, a style to be notably if somewhat differently reprised on 'One From The Heart'). Indeed, the liner notes describe the recording as "A Mr Bones Production / Tom waits: Piano & Vocals / Co-Starring Bette Midler / With this great supporting cast ... [and then lists the band]". The album begins with a beautiful little programmatic opener, 'Cinny's Waltz', in which Alcivar's lush but minimal arrangement turns a very small musical nugget from Waits into a beautifully evocative vignette, leading in turn into the absolutely gorgeous melancholy piano ballad 'Muriel'. Trumpeter Jack Sheldon takes the lead at the end of 'Cinny's Waltz', and his breathy tone is perfect, sax player Frank Vicari picking up the muscial baton for 'Muriel', with an equally soft, breathy tone.

Track three, a duet with Bette Midler called 'I Never Talk To Strangers' (in the liner notes Waits enthuses 'Bette, your absolutely colossal'!) is the very track that inspired Coppola (who apparently discovered Waits through his sons enthusiasm for him) to craft a whole film around the musical moods that Waits generated. I actually think the pairing of Crystal Gayle and Waits, for OFTH, is actually more musically successful than this number, which is nonetheless both very good and very endearing. It's worth mentioning at this point the brilliant back and white photography of George Hurrell, which adorns the record, adding an expressionistic noir vibe to it's filmic associations. In some of these pics Waits is the epitome of studied cool, but there's one absolutely priceless shot, in which he looks almost freakish, head cocked back, eyes-closed, a half-smoked ciggy mid-mouth, and a hairy chest peeking through the skid-row suit. But that's the thing: Waits probably chose that pic himself, showing he's the compete deal, a kind of surreal lounge singer, his spidery double jointed fingers bent back, and his oily/greased shaggy coiffure a riot of curls that almost seems to express his inner wildness.

'Jack And Neal' is another celebration of things 'beat', literally telling a tale of Kerouac and Cassady on the road, with all the accoutrements, Mexicans, girls, benzedrine, jazz and booze. This is followed by the boozy bar room lullaby to old friends long missed, 'Sight For Sore Eyes', and that wrapped up side one, in vinyl days of yore. You'd then flip the platter, and get the ultra-cinematic 'Potter's Field'. Like 'Jack & Neal' this is in essence a recitative rap, a spoken word piece. But whereas the latter becomes a funky slinky double-bass lead jazz number, heavy on rambunctious rhythm, 'Potter's Field', still snaking across sinuous upright bass, is an altogether moodier affair, with spooky sounds from the orchestra. Here it's worth pausing to note just how stupendously brilliant these recordings are: this was all laid down direct to two track. That's right, live, in one take, with the whole orchestra! The excellent music technology magazine Sound On Sound ran a feature on 'Bones' Howe in which he discussed their working methods. Essentially they went for the purest simplest, most 'real' approach. None of this 'we'll fix it in the mix' nonsense that the digital age has made so ubiquitous (and on which, I must confess, I'm very dependent).

Next up comes the beyond-words-brilliance of 'Burma Shave', a number that had evolved from a spoken word piece. If you ever get the chance to see Waits' Austin City Limits performance (a superb film of a brilliant concert, one of the best I've ever seen, that really should be made commercially available, preferably remastered and in high-definition) from around this time you'll hear the song in development, when it was recited over a cycle round the first four chords of 'Summertime', brilliant in it's own way, but not as fabulous as the fully realised album version. Jobim's wonderful 'Agua De Marcos' is an example of sublime poetry set to simple cyclical music, very different but equally magical, and I think Waits lyrics frequently have a similarly high level of poetic richness and density that makes them almost synaesthetic. I believe some have called this Waits most underrated album, and, as I write this, listening to the album, I'm incline to agree. It's chock-full of jaw-dropping brilliance... pure magic.

'Barber Shop' turns Waits lyrical talents in a more humorous kaleidoscopic direction, and is a close cousin to 'Jack & Neal' musically, with double bass and drums dominating the music, grooving funkily, Shelly Manne's beautifully subtle nuanced touch on the drums particularly worthy of note. And finally Tom gets his ticket and sails off on the title-track 'Foreign Affair', a slice of louche sophistication, with very rich jazzy chordal voicings, and a sensibility that mixes the best of Tin Pan Alley with an almost European Cabaret-esque vibe, particularly when what sounds like an accordion joins in towards the end. Totally brilliant, this might in fact be one of Waits most consistently top-notch records. And given how good his catalogue is, that's really saying something.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 4 October 2011
while waits travelled through several different areas as he progressed his career, from barbum, to beat poet, to blues, all before the end of the 70s, this album is almost a one-off phase. it's as if he were let loose in his own cinema. there's noir, there's b movies, there's all sorts of things, but you really get the feeling waits can visualise everything in front of him and is hoping he's put enough out there for you to see it too. intensely ambitious (check out the mammoth and awe-inspiring potter's field), this isn't an easy album to get into. i don't hold it among my favourites, but there's no doubting waits determination to make art, and not just churn out albums with some standard blues or jazz riffs on it. and that's to be admired, even if he'd achieve it more successfully in later albums.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 24 December 2000
Foreign Affairs is the final seventies Tom Waits album to enter my collection, and I wish it hadn't taken me so long. This is one of his most beautiful albums, and is a melancholic, jazzy delight from start to end. 'I never talk to strangers' is the highlight, a quite hilarious but oh so true pick up scenario in a bar, duetting with Bette Midler. This album's a forgotten classic in the Tom cannon, very easy listening on the surface, but an undercurrant of his inimitable mixture of sadness and wry humour lies bubbling under.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Fan for 30 years, seen him both times in th UK over the past 18 years, big fan.

Yep, its different to the rest of his albums though none the worse for that.

I probably pull foreign affairs as often as any other album. Listenable, yep; tender; yep; schmaltzy - well, yep in a post irony way that he does so lightly.

And, you know, his heartbreak songs are only the width of a bible flyleaf from seeing redemption...similarly his love songs are only a missed heartbeat from tearing tragedy...thats why we love him so isn't it?

Not typcal Tom, but a classic all the same, 5 bleary stars please.

M
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 8 January 2012
Early album, clean sound 'paints' great pictures of the world of Tom Waits. This makes comfortable listening and a good introduction to his early work. If you like Tom you will like this.
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on 20 August 2014
Why do you listen to music ? Apart from the music that gets into your feet and Wait's woozy rhthyms like Thelonious Monk's will tap your toes - surely it is music that hits the emotions and the intellect at the same time. Yes the man's voice may take a bit more effort than the usual. But these songs can you carry you through life. They have wit, craft and so rare, true human empathy. Burma Shave, unless I bite my lip can bring a tear to the eye even after 25 years. Be discerning, buy it and listen to it twice all the way through before judging. Snobbery ? You are a snob if you ignore this.
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on 17 April 2012
What can I say,I like Tom Waits a lot,that said,this is one of his "better" ones.
At £3.49 delivered you'd be hard pressed to find this album anywhere else than Amazon U.K.His duet with Bette Midler is second to none,the lyrical dexterity on the title track "Foreign Affair" has to be heard to be believed----Sheer poetry!!
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on 23 November 2014
Everything to do with this transaction was perfect. The condition of the CD was new as promised and it was posted almost immediately. Thank you.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 19 February 2009
Tom Waits at his most cinematic! You can almost taste the cigarettes, Smell the stale carpet in some dingy San Fransisco basement! The bourbon drenched breath of Mr Waits! Enter a black and white movie, mostly black actually! Enter Neal and Jack! Tom the storyteller is on form here. Superb band, Shelly Manne the man on drums is awesome, string arrangements to die for, Tom's voice sounding like an instrument (almost like our own John Martyn, only so American!) a duet with Bette Midler. what more can you ask for, Bette sounding like a female King Pleasure. I became a fan of Mr Waits very firmly with Swordfishtrombones and this earlier album is a revelation! a whole landscape of seediness and a must to explore! I'll have a double and then some more!
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