That he is a copper-bottomed, titanium-plated genius is undeniable.
John Doran 2009-11-20
Because Tom Waits has always been a larger-than-life, older-than-the-hills character occupying a much younger man’s body, even now he actually sounds much older than he actually is. He turns 60 next month.
He has come through three distinct stages in his career. The first, which spanned the 70s, saw him play second fiddle to both Dylan and Springsteen as a blue-collar barfly poet. But it wasn’t until he signed to Island Records and started developing his hyper-real skid row, junkyard take on the blues and rock’n’roll that he really hit his stride. And then after signing with punk independent Anti in the 90s, strangely he has become increasingly avant-garde – perverting the usual career path of the star of a certain age.
This live album is odd then as it draws influence stylistically from all three sections of his career. It was recorded recently at venues in Birmingham, Edinburgh, Dublin and other American and European cities during a world tour. There is a sense of disconnect between the crumpled singer from his touchstone albums (Swordfishtrombones, The Black Rider, Mule Variations et al) and the bombastic entertainer in full flow here. The trouble is that Waits is a very intimate artist and on a track such as Singapore (the opening song from what’s probably his finest album, 1985’s Rain Dogs) he relies on a skeleton’s rib cage marimba and parping tuba to intertwine subtly. Live, the same track has to swell to fill the kind of venue that he probably didn’t have in mind when sitting at a piano and writing, and subtlety loses out to bluster.
So this album features the music of Waits the lonely bluesman (Dirt in the Ground), the clanking post modern folk singer (Get Behind the Mule) and the noisy experimenter (The Part You Throw Away) but his voice is always stuck in booming, rasping, Dr Who villain mode, which doesn’t always work in the context of hearing this on your stereo. That Tom Waits is a copper-bottomed, titanium-plated genius is undeniable; but whether this live album adds much to his mainly exemplary back catalogue is debatable.
Those who wandered from the fold a few years ago, or the musically open minded who are unfamiliar with his later work, are persuaded to buy the recent treble album collection, Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards, which paints a much more convincing picture of Waits as a world-class talent who is about to enter his seventh decade.