Review Summary: An excellent debut laying the foundations for what would become a fantastic career for Tom Waits.
In 1973, a little known artist by the name of Tom Waits released his debut album, Closing Time
, and, although he would go on to diversify his musical approach after a few albums due to a need to experiment more, the album serves as a window into the early workings of Waits’ musical career.
Waits essentially started out as a spit ’n’ sawdust bar singer, who would sit at the piano with his bottle of bourbon and packet of smokes and play the night away crooning about various down trodden topics but was pre-dominantly focused on the tried and true theme of women and matters of the heart. This helped to form the early stages of Waits’ vagabond, lonely man persona .
What is interesting about Closing Time
is that compared to his later, more experimental material, Waits’ debut material was very much in the simple jazz/blues singer -songwriter vein. Most of the tracks on the album are lead by a combination of laid back piano lines intertwining with brass and horns topped with Waits’, as yet un-ravaged by whiskey and cigarettes (although there is an early hint of it beginning to creep in), half-sung, half-spoken vocals.
The most compelling aspect of the album is in the fact that the sparse, minimalistic tracks still manage to captivate the listener due to Waits’ story-telling ability and the empathy that can be felt with the characters and situations that his lyrics create. “I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You” and “Little Trip To Heaven” are both prime examples of Waits’ ability to write about love without resulting in a cheesy, hackneyed feeling, but more in presenting a tale of a man who genuinely has these feelings and conveying them in a heartfelt manner. He achieves this both through his vocal performance and the actual lyrical content, such as this excerpt from “I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You”:
“Well the night does funny things inside a man
These old tom-cat feelings you don't understand,
Well I turn around to look at you, you light a cigarette,
I wish I had the guts to bum one, but we've never met,
And I hope that I don't fall in love with you.”
However the downbeat tracks are also contrasted with humorous, upbeat numbers, which help to provide the album with a little diversity. “Ice Cream Man” which begins with a misleadingly maudlin piano line but then morphs into an innuendo filled, up tempo, jazzy romp is one of the best examples of this style and an indicator of the more abstract topics and imagery Waits would later go on to create with his vaudeville themed tracks.
“Clickin' by your house about two forty-five
With Sidewalk sundae strawberry surprise,
I got a cherry popsicle right on time
I got a big stick, mamma, that'll blow your mind.”
“Ol’ ’55” is also easily one of the greatest first tracks on a debut album and serves as an immediate introduction to Waits’ tortured lyrics and delivery, as soon as the listener hears the first thirty seconds of the track; they are in no doubt that they are in for a captivating listen. It is Waits’ ability to mix and match these genre styles and provide excellent lyrical content for each mood that makes the majority of the tracks on Closing Time
a joy to listen to and increases the replay value of the album. Featuring a song for any mood, the album can both be enjoyed on a warm summer’s day as well as on the wettest, dullest autumn evening and it is this that serves as testament to the natural talent and charm of Tom Waits.
The album’s production is kept to a minimum, allowing for a laidback, almost live feel, which is a great approach as it helps to give the feeling that the listener is right there in the bar or club with Waits, listening to his stories. There is a little shine put on the instruments, which are well balanced with the vocals, not to the extent that it detracts from the natural feel of the tracks but enough to provide a crisp, enjoyable listening experience.
Considering that it was his debut album, Closing Time
, is an incredibly mature body of work and is an outstanding introduction to Tom Waits’ career; showing slight hints of the experimentation which was to come later in his career, as well as his natural ability for writing simplistic piano lead ballads with honest, heartfelt lyrics to match his vagabond personality. It also serves as a slightly more accessible starting point for those looking to get into Waits’ music as well as a good reference for which to compare Waits' evolution as an artist from the basic roots displayed on this album to the eccentric, eclectic performances of his later work.