Thirty-one years ago, a struggling young artist named Tom Waits published his debut album entitled Closing Time. He went on to tour with Frank Zappa, record with Bette Midler, publish a number of hit jazz and blues records and even get nominated for an Academy Award for his soundtrack to Francis Ford Coppola’s unsuccessful love story One From The Heart. In 1983, ten years after his debut, he released Swordfishtrombones and changed the face of music forever with his outrageous vocals, his vivid imagery and insane, cabaret-like music. Tom Waits has been king of the weird ever since.
And there’s more change on the way. A new Waits album is scheduled for release on October 5th by Epitaph Records, an Anti Publishing subsidiary. The title of the new album is Real Gone, and it seems to promise a real change for Tom, while it may not be as abrupt as that of Swordfishtrombones. Waits’ last three records, 1999’s Mule Variations and 2002’s simultaniously released Alice and Blood Money felt, in a sense, like a summary of his entire career, from jazz to rock to blues to Kurt Weill. But on Real Gone, Waits is way out there, experimenting like never before. The most notable of these experiments is his vocal percussion technique, which he played around with a bit on the track “Big in Japan” on Mule Variations. This time, though, he’s taking it much further. He made vocal tracks in the bathroom of his house, using a small four-track recorder. These were not looped – he would actually do the riffs for 3 ½ minutes, and then bring them to his band.
The musicians on the new album are mostly old Waits veterans, the most notable perhaps Les Claypool of Primus, or bass genius Larry Taylor, who has been Tom’s bassist for the larger part of his career. But he has one new collaborator, and this may be the most interesting one. Casey Waits – yes, Tom’s own son – has joined hand with his dad for Real Gone, adding percussion and turntables to songs like the bluesy urban nightmare “Metropolitan Glide”. Until now, Tom and Casey had only played together on very rare occassions during live performances.
Waits fans might have an idea about what to expect. It seems that Tom is going all the way in the direction of Mule Variation tracks like “Big in Japan”, “Filipino Box Spring Hog” and “Eyeball Kid”. There’s no way to know exactly what it’ll be like, though, but he has left us some clues. For those less familiar with the artist, he’s almost impossible to describe. Try to imagine Marilyn Manson with a blues band, and you might come close, but it’ll still be off. The only thing to do is to listen to the damn thing.