This album is a real find. Absolutely fantastic. It's pretty much in a class and genre of its own - probably not revisited until Nick Cave's 'Boatman's Call' in the 90s. Lyrically it's kind of somewhere between Bob Dylan and Springsteen, filtered through the literary influences of Jack Kerouac and Charles Bukowski. Probably the best way to describe it is with some kind of scenario. Imagine you're out in New York late at night, drunk as you've ever been, and you stumble into an underground jazz cafe at 2am. Through the haze of cigarette smoke you can just about see this dishevelled guy sitting at a piano who is playing surprisingly intricate and moving music while singing in a rasping blues voice about love and loss in the back alleys of America. That pretty much sums it up.
'New Coat of Paint' sounds like Dylan covering a Nina Simone track. 'Looking for the Heart of Saturday Night' is a bit more mainstream - maybe Jackson Browne if he was ever feeling a bit suicidal. 'Please Call me Baby' is just beautiful. And my favourite, surprisingly, is 'Diamonds on my Windshield' which is more performance poetry than a song, but is so original it's difficult not to love it. "There's fifteen feet of snow in the East and it's colder than a well-digger's ass". When was the last time you heard a line THAT good on a cd?
Without being too pretentious, let's be honest about life for a minute. Most of us aren't supermodels, most of us don't feel happy and fantastic all the time, most of us can't sing like angels. And yet we all find happiness and beauty in the world on a pretty regular basis. This album is the sound of someone who is probably even less of a supermodel than you or I, who is less happy and more screwed up than we are, who sings like a drunk who's just woken up in a dumpster, and yet he finds beauty and poignancy all around him. There's something pretty life affirming about that. I haven't listened to this album once without being moved like I've never been moved before.
I know Waits went on to create some pretty innovative, and pretty out-there music after this. But this is as honest and heart-rending as it gets. If you want something to listen to over a glass of whisky or a bottle of wine late at night, seriously, you should look no further than this. It doesn't get any better.
Having found the perfect foil for this point in his career, in jazz drummer-turned-producer 'Bones' Howe, Waits builds solidly on the promise of his debut, Closing Time, still drawing on the pool of songs he had in his bag before he secured a deal, but also adding to his repertoire.
Amongst the best tracks is the title number, in which Waits voice and guitar are ably complemented by the sinuous serpentine bass of Jim Hughart, traffic and other incidental noises adding to the evocative effect. I believe the fabulous bass part may have evolved when Waits was working with bassist Bill Plummer, and Tom's guitar part, in drop-D tuning, is the essence of Waits as self-accompanist: it seems, indeed it is in some ways, very simple, but it's also absolutely perfect. And that's not so easy! Over the span of his career Waits turns in some truly sublime turns on piano, guitar and vocals, not to mention songwriting, and it's all done with understated panache. He's not a virtuoso, technically speaking, in any of these departments, and yet he gets more emotion and meaning across than many a technician could possibly achieve. That's the 'art' part of the deal, it's about feel, and is almost magical.
Amongst the stellar sidemen Howe brought Waits together with, not only are the notable rhythm team of bassist Jim Hughart and drummers Bill Goodwin or Shelly Manne, worthy of special mention, so to is arranger Bob Alcivar, whose lush cinematic arrangements work perfectly with Waits' sophisticatedly sleazy material. Trumpeter Jack Sheldon and sax players Pete Christlieb and Frank Vicari, also help bring the jazz dimension of Waits at this time into sparkling 3-D. Waits would continue to work with these guys to great effect over a number of years, releasing some music that is, in my view, amongst the greatest committed to wax in the latter part of the 20th century.
The material is of a very high standard throughout, although it's not all even. Some pieces flesh out spoken word raps that he was delivering in his early gigging days, often accompanied only by his own toe-tapping and finger-popping. On wax, such numbers as 'Diamonds On My Windshield' and 'Ghosts of Saturday night' make the transition with admirable aplomb. Waits develops the bluesier side begun with 'Virginia Avenue' and 'Ice Cream Man', with the fabulous 'New Coat Of paint', a rarity in the Waits cannon for the use of the rich tremolo Rhodes (did Waits play this? no other keys player is credited), 'Semi-Suite', 'Fumblin' With The Blues' and 'Depot, Depot'.
His maudlin melancholy, replete with honeyed strings courtesy of Alcivar, finds expression in 'San Diego Serenade', the more minimal title track, 'Please Call me Baby', and 'Drunk On The Moon', this last of which goes into an out and out jazzy swing section for sax and trumpet solo sections, before resuming the more downbeat song. Kerouac experimented with mixing his words with music, and his writing was itself influenced by the jazz music and life, but Waits brings the two together more successfully. This is the Waits that some critics, and Waits himself, seem keen to distance themselves from: the boozy romantic barfly. Sure, it can seem ripe for parody, and indeed, some, including Waits himself, worried that this was where he was headed, hence a later-career shift in direction. But for me this is, for all it's knowingly self-aware louche cleverness, disarmingly innocent and beguiling. In short, I love it: highly recommended.
on 19 October 2007
Closing Time, Waits' debut, was a fine record, mixing jazz, country, and old, 40s-influenced rolling melodies, and fine for late-night lovers. This follow-up sees Waits switch to a producer he had a better rapport with, Bones Howe, & together they made this equally enjoyable album.
Here, though, the more devil-may-care jazz that was understated on the debut is more in evidence, with a more trenchant tone to the lyrics ( see the opening number ) and even spoken-word recitals ( Diamonds On My Windshield ) that Waits would develop further. That said, there's some nicely understated moments too, such as the closing "Ghosts Of Saturday Night", the title track, and the beautiful 'going away' ballad, "Shiver Me Timbers".
on 25 July 2003
This album is sublime. The whole. The sum of it's parts. Every single note, line and chord. From the optimism of the drunken romantic 'New Coat of Paint', to the beautiful 'San Diego Serenade' with it's 'I never knew I loved you, til I cursed you in vain' - genius.
If you are looking for that elusive, ahem, 'hip' romantic album this is the one. The first time I heard this album will stay with me for ever. But it manages to feel as good on the two hundredth listen.
Buy it now, and let a little Waitsian poetry into your life. After all, 'fishing for a good time starts with throwing in your line'.
on 14 February 2003
Late night, mid February 2003.
While peering through the pages of Amazon, I have come across an old review of mine, written in a drunken haze, 3 years ago. I just thought I'd add a couple of thoughts, this time, somewhat more soberly.
Since '99, when, i have to admit, I feared, though did not admit, that the old master may be losing his touch, things have changed. I listened to the excellent Mule Variations, but with the idea that it was the death knoll of a great artist- a parthian shot from the dark, before a timely disappearance to obscurity.
And then came 2002.
Blood Money and Alice are as wonderful as any of his creations, taking his depictions of the carnival to fresh depths of 'beatitude'(in Kerouac's sense of the word), painting, vividly evoking, in red and black, the seedy underbelly of a 'gone world'. They are tremendous albums, and have been rightly placed on many 'best of 2002' lists. If anyone gets the chance- go and see his collaboration with Robert Wilson- Woyzeck. It is a wonderful visual drug, an assault on the senses. And it gives Blood Money real vitality and resonance.
Why have i written this on a review of one of his earliest albums? To demonstrate that, even after 3 years of regular listening, which is usually enough to kill someones love for an artist, he remains a true companion, who has indirectly introduced me to a fantastic world of beat- Bukowski, Algren, Kerouac, Fante, Bryars, Jarmusch, Jack Black, etc
ps. It's a great album
pps. Dont buy Cath Carolls book on him- it's the second worst read in the world, after The Celestine Prophecy
on 3 October 2011
some real heart to this, and with defter touches than his debut "closing time", this is where tom really stretches out the role of late night drunk hanging around town when everyone else is going to bed. the music is still fairly straight forward, and the voice is still the same weedy bloke as in the first album, but there's a clearer sense of purpose and of character in this, and the tunes are belters. "new coat of paint" is a rollicking ride, capturing that drunken "tonight's all that matters, to hell with all our worries and the rest of reality" kind of vibe with lyrics like "you wear a dress, baby, i'll wear a tie, we'll laugh at that old bloodshot moon in that burgundy sky", delivered with panache. his lyrics were really beginning to come to the fore on here, and it's a lovely album to get fairly sozzled to. this was my introduction to waits, and i guess i'm biased because of it, but this is one i'll keep going back to
"I never saw the mornin`
till I stayed up all night..."
Heart Of Saturday Night is as close to perfection as you`ll hear from Tom Waits` early years. His career is contemporaneous with those of Loudon Wainwright and Springsteen, pretty good company. This was Tom`s second record, after the promising, if hesitant debut Closing Time, and before the live Nighthawks and the magisterial Small Change.
A cymbal then a couple of slap-bang drum beats kick off New Coat Of Paint, as funky a song as Waits has given us...
"Let`s put a new coat of paint
on this lonesome old town"
...opens this irresistible album in emphatic style. He sounds like he`s on the ball, on the money and on song. It`s a great number, with Waits` jazzy piano pleasingly to the fore.
"You wear a dress, baby I`ll wear a tie,
We`ll laugh at that old bloodshot moon in that burgundy sky"
Next up is not only one of Tom`s best songs but one of the most beautiful, moving love songs you`re ever likely to hear. The elusively titled San Diego Serenade is a
song to (lost?) love, but also a song about living in the moment, in three perfectly composed verses, all to a heart-tugging orchestration that complements this gorgeous song with a restrained lushness.
After the superb Semi Suite comes another classic. Only Waits could have, indeed should have, penned a song called Shiver Me Timbers. Surprisingly, he doesn`t swagger or growl as he most certainly would these days on such a piratical number, rather he sings this romantic `shanty` straight, again to an apt orchestral arrangement, mellow woodwinds & keening strings. I`d forgotten how moving, how pensive this song is. Bette Midler covered it, but I wish someone like Harry Belafonte or even Sinatra had had a go at it too.
Tom Waits was rapping - and to far more potent effect, Id say - long before anyone else thought to make a trend out of it. Diamonds On My Windshield and The Ghosts Of Saturday Night are two jazz inflected ramblings through Waitsworld, and welcome they are in the midst of so much romanticised neon-lit yearning.
The title track is just wonderful, one of Mr Waits` most memorable songs, with an touchingly innocent lyric that he may well have written when younger.
"Barrelling down the boulevard,
you`re lookin` for the heart of Saturday night"
The song was covered nicely by none other than Jerry Jeff "Mr Bojangles" Walker, albeit in a faster version.
The rest of this sadly sentimental album is just as fine, Depot Depot a song I`d overlooked before but won`t again.
The backings on all songs are damn near perfect, with each song sounding a little different from the others. The slightly throwaway Fumblin` With The Blues has a clarinet in there that is exactly `right`, along with a another jazz arrangement.
Please Call Me Baby is lush, lovely, lovelorn. Odd how an orchestra can couch a song in such warm & comfortable grace, like swaddling.
Drunk On The Moon is a piano-led number with a wiry, fretful bass and a terrific line in wry couplets...
"The moon`s a silver slipper,
it`s pourin` champagne stars"
Another song I`d forgotten was so damn good! Lovely sax solo too, before the tempo speeds up, followed by an all-too-short burst of trumpet, then it slows for the last verse.
I don`t understand those who can`t take Tom Waits` less obviously melodic, more abrasive later albums. The man was never going to stay in one groove. We got three or four albums like this one, then the man moved on - then moved on again - as all artists must and will do. He`s still one of the best we have.
If you like Waits, this is for you. When magazines & the like list the `best ever` albums, too often they forget about ol` Tom, which is a shame. This came out in 1974 (so long ago!) when glam rock was still in its shallow pomp, and punk - which Waits not surprisingly embraced - was round the next corner.
Heart Of Saturday Night was and is one of the finest albums of the seventies. It grows with each hearing.
On Waits' second album his poetic lyrics are wrapped in a variety of jazzy, bluesy and folk styles with a hint of the orchestral on two tracks. Diamonds On My Windshield and The Ghosts of Saturday Night are spoken recitals, a form he would later explore over entire albums.
The most outstanding tracks, lyrically and melodically, are the tender San Diego Serenade with its elegant strings, the soulful and melancholy Shiver Me Timbers and the title track which in sentiment and imagery brings to mind his much later composition Jersey Girl.
The jazzy numbers include New Coat Of Paint and Semi Suite; Fumblin' With The Blues represents that genre whilst Drunk On The Moon is somewhere in-between. Of the other ballads, Please Call Me, Baby is an orchestrated outing whilst Depot Depot has the most arresting saxophone solos.
The Heart Of Saturday Night provides a satisfying cross-section of all the different styles Tom Waits would develop in his illustrious career, including on masterpieces like Rain Dogs, Heartattack and Vine and Mule Variations.
For fans, I recommend the book Innocent When You Dream: The Tom Waits Reader which documents his life and music up to 2004 and is perhaps better than a formal biography as it provides various perspectives from many different writers.
on 25 March 2015
I stumbled across Tom Waits via Beth Harts cover of "Chocolate Jesus", and Amazon reviews suggested that this album was a good place to start on his considerable body of work. Well, after a couple of listens I was well and truly hooked and now have, 6 months later, his first 6 albums --Fantastic Stuff and, as far as I know, Truly Unique.
It's been suggested here that if your into Dylan, Kerouac,Bukowski, etc., then you'll like Waits. Agreed, and I would add Damon Runyon. And any of many great American "noir" movies. His songs form perfect vignettes of American low or street life,often moving,often rough [mostly raw in delivery],often sweetly melodic and often real cool jazz.
I would suggest buying his albums in chronological order --- His "style"does develop as he goes along.
I am about the same age as Tom and don't quite know how I have missed him - Suppose he's never been big in the UK.
Just buy and try it --- I can readily understand that some will not like or "get" the man. On the other hand I'm sure that for many, like me, the man will be a major find.
on 11 August 2007
OK, admittedly I am not a huge fan of Tom Waits. Too many of his vocal characterizations are irritating, they detract from both the music and lyrics. Generally I have to say that his songs are better when covered by other artists. However, this album has him in full flow and fine voice. Some of his best numbers are here and they lack nothing in presentation and pathos.