The similar Heart of Saturday Night is entertaining but relatively faceless. As with Closing Time, the material Waits sings straight melts into the mush of mid-'70s AOR. Nevertheless, the album bears the first hints of the highly stylized, jazzy, after-hours persona that would become Waits' trademark (shaped, in part, by producer Bones Howe--Waits' collaborator for the remainder of his Asylum stay). "Diamonds on My Windshield" is the first good example of Waits' narrative-lyric technique, backed only by an upright bass and high-hat/snare combo. The moving title track reveals a more emotive and intimate side--one that would prove equally significant during his Asylum years.
The double-live Nighthawks at the Diner is the quintessential pre-'80s Waits LP, portraying him as a hep and humorous sleazy nightclub act playing the fictional Rafael's Silver Cloud Lounge. The small-audience intimacy and Howe's sparing production are key factors in the LP's success. From the introspective, metaphorical "Emotional Weather Report" to the bachelor anthem "Better Off Without a Wife," Waits sells this show on sheer character. Milking his rapport with the audience for all it's worth, he throws out one-liners and local cultural references like a hip Henny Youngman. As it established a solid identity, Nighthawks was a turning point in Waits' career, and a good place for neophytes to begin.
Small Change and Foreign Affairs are, overall, his strongest Asylum releases. Both sessions were recorded and mixed live in the studio--complete with orchestra--and possess the perfect balance of compositional maturity and production expertise, allowing the strings' lush romanticism to augment the songs rather than overshadow them. Small Change contains his most fervent tracks ("The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)" and "Tom Traubert's Blues"), as well as "Step Right Up," a jumpy ode to snake-oil salesmen everywhere.
Foreign Affairs tugs on the heartstrings with the piano-bar ballad "Muriel" and the music-box beauty of "A Sight for Sore Eyes"; the scat-like "Barber Shop" complements the circus-barker call of "Step Right Up." Best of all, however, is "I Never Talk to Strangers," a duet with Bette Midler; "Burma-Shave," a tale of unfulfilled dreams, comes in a close second.
Blue Valentine, while a satisfying enough album, seems a bit short on originality when set in career context. Side One, for instance, reads like a Waits how-to manual: one part strings ("Somewhere"), one part jazz poetry ("Red Shoes by the Drugstore"), one part piano ballad ("Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis"), one part colorful narrative ("Romeo Is Bleeding"), and one part sultry blues ("$29.00"). Side Two is more of the same.
Heartattack and Vine is the bluesiest of Waits' albums, highlighted by the Chicago-electric sound of the instrumental "In Shades" and the killer Hammond organ sound that runs throughout. A bit of this blues touches several of the other tracks (most notably the title cut and "Downtown"), reprising an infrequently used ingredient in Waits' now-consistent recipe. Also contributing to the LP's power are the raucous "'Til the Money Runs Out" and the tender "Jersey Girl" (far better than Springsteen's subsequent cover).
Bounced Checks is a German compilation that overlooks Closing Time but does contain some previously unreleased tracks, including "Mr. Henry," alternate versions of "Jersey Girl" and Blue Valentine's "Whistlin' Past the Graveyard" and an amusing spoken version of "The Piano Has Been Drinking" which, recorded live in Dublin, might as well be a different song. With the subsequent release of Anthology, Bounced Checks' enduring value is in its unreleased material rather than as an Asylum collection.
Released after a long hiatus during which he changed labels, the self-produced Swordfishtrombones transforms Waits from a bourbon-drenched barfly to an autonomous and eccentric ringmaster. Gone are the romantic piano ballads and jazz trios, replaced by adventurous arrangements of creepy marimba rhythms, pleasing dissonance and creative absurdity. The album's anthem is undoubtedly "16 Shells from a Thirty-Ought-Six" in all its twisted glory; "Frank's Wild Years" and "Down, Down, Down" are also prime cuts.
Rain Dogs is Waits' best Island release; it picks up the previous LP's trail but is consistently more intoxicating. Working with the finest musicians he's ever assembled (plus guest appearances by, among others, the Uptown Horns, Keith Richards and Tony Levin), it's highly percussive, laced with quirky guitar and garnished with unusual brass. Such diverse cuts as "Cemetery Polka" (with Farfisa, trombone and parade drum), "Blind Love," (virtually a country cover of "Jersey Girl," complete with fiddle and Keith Richards' twanging) and "Jockey Full of Bourbon" (a conga-driven rhumba) give it a wonderful sense of schizophrenia.
Anthology is an excellent sampler of Waits' Asylum years: thirteen of the best tracks from every album except Nighthawks.
Franks Wild Years ("Un Operachi Romantico in Two Acts") formed the basis for a stage show that toured traditional theatrical venues in 1988. In small ways, the album harks back to Rain Dogs ("Hang on St. Christopher," for instance, is akin to that album's "Clap Hands"), but in a real sense it's entirely different from any of Waits' previous work. Most importantly, it succeeds as a concept album about a character who escapes from "Rainville" to travel the world, seeing Vegas, New York and parts unknown. Waits' idiosyncratic production employs vocal treatments, chameleonizing his already unmistakable voice into assorted colors and textures.
The soundtrack for the documentary film of the same name, Big Time draws most of its songs from Rain Dogs and Franks Wild Years. It also includes "Red Shoes" (an adaptation of the similarly named track on Blue Valentine) and two new cuts: "Falling Down" and "Strange Weather." As no other such collection exists, Big Time is, in a sense, a compilation, but the versions on it are so different from their studio equivalents that it's more like an adjunct to the three preceding albums.
In recent years, Waits has done quite a bit of acting, appearing in The Cotton Club (1984), Down by Law (1986), Candy Mountain (1987) and other films.
01 - New Coat Of Paint 3:24
02 - San Diego Serenade 3:30
03 - Semi Suite 3:29
04 - Shiver Me Timbers 4:27
05 - Diamonds On My Windshield 3:12
06 - (Looking For) The Heart Of Saturday Night 3:53
07 - Fumblin' With The Blues 3:03
08 - Please Call Me, Baby 4:26
09 - Depot, Depot 3:47
10 - Drunk On The Moon 5:07
11 - The Ghosts Of Saturday Night (After Hours At Napoleone's Pizza House) 3:19
Tom Waits - vocals, guitar, piano;
Shelly Manne - drums;
Gene Cipriano - clarinet;
Bones Howe - percussion;
Jim Hughart - bass;
Jack Sheldon - trumpet;
Frank Vicari - tenor sax.uploadbox