Friday, January 25, 2008

No. 339: The Heart Of Saturday Night

Band: Tom Waits
Album: The Heart Of Saturday Night
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Dispensing with the love songs, Waits' second record was a start of the character sketches and odd personas that would be the trademark of his later work.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: Waits' voice is much clearer than his signature growl and it's not what I know as Tom Waits.
Best song: "Fumblin' With the Blues" is great, as is "Drunk on the Moon."
Worst song: I don't love "New Coat of Paint."
Is it awesome?: It's interesting, if nothing.

Tom Waits is a great songwriter, but my knowledge of him is the incredibly strange older fellow of the past ten years. Singing like he's gargling hot asphalt, Waits' recent albums all tumble towards incredibly strangeness, taking as much from Vaudeville and old-time jazz as they do from rock music.

His second album, however, is just a good record. It's not exciting, it's not weird, it doesn't really push any envelopes. Lyrically, it's really just Semisonic's "Closing Time" before "Closing Time" existed. Musically, it's a lounge singer playing the blues. An interesting concept, yes, but not the best thing I've ever heard.

There's a real tenderness in some of the songs. The sorta title track, "(Looking for) The Heart of Saturday Night" has string-tinged sadness as Waits' voice works over the folky guitar. The piano balladry of "The Ghosts of Saturday Night (After Hours at Napoleone's Pizza House)" is overlaid with Waits basically speaking the song; singing just seems overwhelming at that point in the album. His florid descriptions in the song are probably a little much, but sound incredibly interesting as a beatnik-style spoken word track. "Fumblin' With the Blues" is a rapture in blues while Waits' voice starts to crack a little. "Depot, Depot" has a little showtunes in it, as does the awesome "Drunk on the Moon."

It's not Tom Waits as I know him, but it's still not a bad album and certainly interesting.

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