In making his most recent album, Tom Waits traded in his signature piano for human beat boxing and his son Casey’s turntables. The resulting Real Gone is a heart pounding set of new songs that are, in every sense of the phrase, a mind fuck. There is no doubt that melody takes a far backseat to lyrics in Tom Waits’ world, so if you’re looking to zen out to some chill tunes, this probably isn’t the album you’re looking for, and quite frankly, you can just stop reading. But if you want to commit some time to Waits’ existential views, he’ll at least give you something to think about, and I guarantee you’ll run for your dictionary at least once. The album does, admittedly, start on a rough note, with “Top of the Hill,” which is almost too painful to listen to, yet somehow brilliant at the same time. As he begs the listener to “get me on the ride up” in his trademark raspy voice, it is hard not to feel like the song itself if climbing up hill. The lyrics themselves are totally impenetrable: “Why don’t cha gimme nother / sip of your cup / Turn a Rolls Royce into a / Chicken Coup, uh huh.” But that’s really nothing new for Waits, who has perhaps made a career out of the esoteric. The next song, however, is where the album gains its stars. “Hoist That Rag,” Waits’ mildly Afro-centric take on the traditional sea shanty with an ironic hint of modern pop rock, is a profound meditation on life and God, who appears to be less than helpful: “God used me as hammer, boys / To beat his weary drum today.” Waits gets himself back into trouble with the unbearably long “Sins of My Father.” With 11 minutes of hacking up hair balls and a promise of redemption that never comes, the song is just downright depressing. Waits’ hacking beat box style reaches its climax in “Metropolitan Glide,” in which his asthmatic wheezing seems almost impossible, and it sounds like he might die any second. The song has a particularly fun edge to it, as Waits offers specific instructions for a strange new dance step. Perhaps the most powerful track on the album is “Day After Tomorrow,” which may be the most coherent anti-war song to come out of this year. “I still believe that there’s gold / At the end of the world and I’ll / Come home to Illinois on the / Day after tomorrow,” says the soldier, whose war is never directly mentioned. But, the reference to extended tours seems to place us in a contemporary context, an idea furthered by the not-so-subtle reference to Islam: “what I’m / Trying to say is don’t they pray / To the same God that we do?” Protest songs, existentialism and making fun of pop music may seem uncool right now, but really, being uncool is what Tom Waits has been about from the start. boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
Archived article by Freda Ready
Sun Managing Editor