Thursday, February 3, 2011

CD Odyssey Disc 235: Tom Waits

This review brings Tom Waits into a tie for first with most albums reviewed, at eight. Congratulations Tom!

Alice Cooper remains in second, and it just so happens I wrote this review while wearing an Alice Cooper tour shirt. I'd like to see Waits in concert some time as well, but I fear I've missed my chance. You never know...

Disc 235 is...Blood Money
Artist: Tom Waits

Year of Release: 2002

What’s Up With The Cover?: A disturbed looking Tom Waits shows us his hand of old cards (hint: their size gives away that they're old). I see he's got a bit of cash in there as well. Someone should tell Tom that the money is for betting, the cards are for holding, but with that look on his face don't expect me to do it. He's liable to knife me - but more on that later.

How I Came To Know It: I have written previously about how I cam to know Tom Waits (first on my own, then rediscovered through a friend). This particular album I first noted when I saw a video for the song "God's Away On Business" and really liked it. They used to use arty videos like that as filler when A&E still consisted principally of Arts and Entertainment. Anyway, we didn't get the album until maybe five years later, during our hunt for all things Tom Waits.

How It Stacks Up: We have eighteen Tom Waits albums. This is one of my less favourites, I'd say somewhere between 14th and 16th. It's still good, but there is so many more that are better. That's the way of it, sometimes, as Tom would tell you if he were here.

Rating: 3 stars.

"Misery's the river of the world
Misery's the river of the world

"The higher that the monkey can climb
the more he shows his tail
Call no man happy 'til he dies
There's no milk at the bottom of the pail."

These lines, from "Misery Is The River Of The World" are the first words you hear when you put on "Blood Money", and it mostly goes downhill from here. This is one of the more depressing and dark albums by Waits, which is saying something.

Not musically, mind you, as "Blood Money" has strong melodies, albeit artfully hidden in very unique production decisions. Waits is deep into his 'disturbed circus' feel on "Blood Money" and as usual, he is defying the odds and making it work.

For all of its depressing nature, "Misery Is The River Of The World" is one of the record's stronger tracks. Hey - it doesn't have to be happy to be good, people! I also like the follow up track, the similarly cheery "Everything Goes To Hell".

The song I first heard on the A&E-aired video, "God's Away On Business" is still my favourite from "Blood Money". It takes the modern feeling of alienation from God moves it one step further; it isn't that God isn't there - it's that he's busy. It takes the feeling of metaphysical abandonment to a whole new low. My favourite image from the song:

"I narrow my eyes like a coin slot baby,
Let her ring, let her ring
God's Away, God's Away
God's Away on Business."

In earlier reviews we had Michelle Shocked with the too-cute suggestion that God was a real estate developer. Waits takes the cute right out of the idea. It's not that he's absent, it isn't even that he's just busy; he is actively not returning your calls.

This album is beautifully constructed, and the ideas are great, but it isn't an easy record to love. While I don't mind the sombre tone, I think it needs a little more range to really appreciate the lows.

For a similar but superior album, I'd go with "Alice" also from 2002 or go back three years to the 1999 masterpiece, "Mule Variations". But I'll talk about those records when I roll them.

Interestingly, when I went to check where this album fell in the Waits discography for that preceding paragraph I discovered that this record is actually music for Robert Wilson's version of the play "Woyzeck". That's weird - I just finished watching Werner Herzog's 1979 movie version of the same.

Knowing this makes this album's depressing quality much more understandable. "Woyzeck" is a disturbed portrait of a soldier who is abused and maltreated until he finally snaps and commits a bloody murder. It also explains why there is an instrumental on "Blood Money" called "Knife Chase". (Spoiler alert: the knife chase ends tragically).

"Woyzeck" the play also features a woman telling some kids an inappropriate bed-time story about a prince who goes to the moon only to find it is made of a rotten board - a story Waits will lift almost wholesale for another album (I think it is on 2006's "Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards").

If you are a hard core Tom Waits fan, you'll enjoy this album - maybe even love it. If you're only a casual fan, I wouldn't start here.

Best tracks: Misery's The River of the World, Everything Goes To Hell, God's Away On Business, Starving In The Belly Of A Whale, The Part You Throw Away

No comments: