Tom Waits
Real Gone


4.5
superb

Review

by VeryPleasantNeighbor USER (1 Reviews)
April 28th, 2010 | 16 replies


Release Date: 2004 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Tom Waits is mad as hell, and he's not going to take it anymore.

If any singer deserves the title “acquired taste,” it’s Tom Waits. He started out nearly forty years ago with his James Taylor-meets-Jack Daniels debut Closing Time, and he’s been getting progressively more eccentric ever since. His musical backing has shifted from jazzy piano to scrap metal percussion and mangled guitars, and his vocals have gone from rough to, well, rougher.

Amongst Waits fans, the debate over his best album comes up often. People who would rather listen to Billy Joel than Primus generally agree that 1976’s Small Change is the best, whereas fans of his more abrasive work are usually split between 1985’s Rain Dogs and 1992’s Grammy-winning Bone Machine, with a few stray votes for the bluesy Mule Variations sneaking in.

Notably absent from these debates is his most recent studio album, Real Gone. For this album, Waits abandoned the piano. Ugly, distorted guitars and Waits’ own beat-boxing loops (more like structured grunting, but what the hell) form the majority of the musical backing, while his vocals are as confrontational as they’ve ever been. Even the ballads, top-notch as they are, are nowhere near as inviting as previous albums’. Waits fans are generally accepting of abrasive music, so it’s surprising to see Real Gone receiving such little acclaim.

While I rank it in the upper tier of Waits’ albums, I’ll admit that it’s not the most consistent. Opener “Top of the Hill” is just plain irritating, and “Metropolitan Glide” can never get out of its own way, avoiding melody at all cost. Furthermore, “Sins of My Father” could have been cut in half and it would still be a drag to sit through. However, it should be noted that these songs, flawed as they are, sound much better within the context of the album. If any Waits album has a unified sound, it’s Real Gone.

Perhaps the best example of that “sound” is “Baby Gonna Leave Me.” Starting off with a frantic beat-boxing loop that sounds like it was recorded about two inches from your ear, the song winds its way through a standard blues chord progression. Waits’ lyrics play around with sad-sack blues clichés, including the hilarious “If I was a tree, I’d be a cut-down tree / And if I was a bed, I’d be an unmade bed."

Waits has always been known as a brilliant lyricist, and Real Gone continues that tradition. “Hoist That Rag” could be about any number of things, but whatever it’s about, it’s intriguing. “Make It Rain” somehow manages to make an Abel/able pun sound brilliant, and “Dead and Lovely” features the line “He’s not the kind of wheel you fall asleep at,” one of the more ominous compliments I’ve heard in a while.

However, the rest of the album pales in comparison to “Don’t Go Into That Barn,” an absolute monster of a song. Waits piles on the threatening details: a scream coming from the woods, an old black tree, a spooky old barn, and a wrecked slave ship. The woozy, lumbering stomp of a musical backing only enhances the lyrics’ menacing tone, making the song downright scary.

It’s a testament to Tom Waits’ level of talent and consistency that an album as strong as Real Gone is criminally ignored. To be fair, it’s not as groundbreaking as Rain Dogs, as cathartic as Bone Machine, or as amusing as Small Change. However, its foreboding mood and the strength of songs like “Hoist That Rag” and “Don’t Go Into That Barn” places it alongside those classic albums. Fans of ballads and songs like “The Piano Has Been Drinking” may not agree, but I doubt Tom Waits gives a damn.


user ratings (262)
Chart.
3.7
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
AtavanHalen
April 28th 2010


17920 Comments


Break up your paragraphs, dude.

Make It Rain is such a fucking jam.

shindip
April 29th 2010


3536 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Make it Rain and Hows it Gonna end are sick.

VeryPleasantNeighbor
April 29th 2010


272 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

ugh fucking formatting, looks better now...



enjoy, y'all

hastapura
April 29th 2010


56 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

no love for Green Grass??

thebhoy
Emeritus
April 29th 2010


4462 Comments


Tom. Fucking. Waits.

VeryPleasantNeighbor
April 29th 2010


272 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

just fyi i wrote this for a journalism course, hence the lack of snarky sputnik tone. i might go back and take out some of the intro since i figure the average person reading this review knows more about tom waits than my pudgy middle aged central wisconsin journalism prof does

DoctorNurse
April 29th 2010


475 Comments


As much as I enjoy his weirder stuff, I've always liked Closing Time the best

Brylawski
April 29th 2010


709 Comments


good review

Phantom
April 29th 2010


8968 Comments


Haven't heard this one yet but I'm planning on getting his whole discography so I'll get to it soon.

thebhoy
Emeritus
April 29th 2010


4462 Comments


also I wouldn't say "jazzy piano", that's such a vague term in the first place, and Waits is usually more Blues.

VeryPleasantNeighbor
April 29th 2010


272 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

yeah good point. i was just listening to Small Change and I noticed that the jazz trio doesn't really appear much on the piano-based songs...will fix soon. He's gotten bluesier recently (Mule Variations, especially)

canatunaman
September 23rd 2010


265 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

make it rain has to be one of the best songs ever written... ever

fuckthatnoise
April 9th 2012


1479 Comments


it disgusts me how underrated this is.

EaglesBecomeVultures
October 10th 2013


5501 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

hooisst that rag!

ExcentrifugalForz
July 24th 2014


2124 Comments


how this guy released so many good albums in a row

is a mystery

JokineAugustus
July 24th 2014


8587 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I have yet to hear a less than "great" album by him.



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