23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
unparalleled beauty meets carnival burlesque,
This review is from: Swordfishtrombones (Audio CD)
You may think everything's already been said about this album... you're wrong!
Tom's change of direction, marked by this release, has left me gradually less and less inclined to put the later albums on. It's like he feared becoming a caricature barfly, so instead became a caricatured carnival freak. His relationship with Kathleen Brennan undoubtedly has some bearing on this (more on this later).
On this pivotal release however, you get the best of both worlds. Most albums since (and including) SFT start with a rumbling uptempo oddball number (uptempo by Tom's standards as opposed to Slayer's): here it's 'Underground' (Frank's Wild Years starts with 'Hang On St Christopher', and Rain Dogs with 'Singapore', etc.). The fact this has become a bit of a formula is, perhaps, a little sad, but all three tunes referenced are utterly brilliant. So, not too sad!
Enough's been said elsewhere about the Beefheart and classical modernist influences. What I want to focus on is the remaining strain of simple romanticism (what Brennan calls his "Grand Weepers"). Brennan's appearance in Wait's life seems, from his interviews, to signal a complete change (of personal perspective/heart), redemption, and rescue even. Testament to this wonderful and simple enduring love continues to be evident in his work: 'Take It With Me' from Mule Variations being a wonderful example: "ain't no good thing ever dies". I cry every time I listen to that song.
'Johnsburg, Illinois' is, so I've read, written as a love song to Brennan, and, fittingly, it transcends the theatricaltiy of other material here with its straightforward and honest confession of love. I've always like this side of Tom most. And it's in the very fabric of his best music. I feel that one of his most sublime recordings is the fabulously minimal and haunting Rainbirds. After a brief but exquisite 'glass harmonica' intro, Waits' piano and Greg Cohen's bass paint a picture of such desolate blue beauty it floors me, it's my all time melancholy desert island disc number one!
One more testimony as to why you should buy this CD!