Review Summary: Often overlooked, Foreign Affairs is a fine addition to Waits' impressive discography.
Upon seeing the cover to 1977’s Foreign Affairs, one could be forgiven for expecting a much darker and brooding experience than Waits’ previous effort, the alcohol-laced Small Change. However, the opening instrumental ‘Cinny’s Waltz’ instantly dispels this idea, introducing the listener to a beautiful orchestral piece fronted by Waits’ piano. The rest of the album is a fresh but much safer approach to the music Waits was known for early in his career.
Vocally, Waits has perfected his deeper growl of a voice, no longer the unpredictable beast as its drunken counterpart had been in Small Change. Mixed with the smooth style he implemented on The Heart of Saturday Night, it’s a perfect complement to the relaxing new direction his music had taken.
The album is full of overlooked treasures, including the highly entertaining ‘I Never Talk To Strangers’. This track is almost a foresight to 1982’s One From The Heart soundtrack; the way Waits’ lyrics bounce off of the responses of guest singer Bette Midler makes it clear why he was chosen to perform the score to the movie. ‘Muriel’ is a welcome return to the style of love song that appeared in the form of ‘Rosie’ and ‘Martha’ on Closing Time, with reminiscent lyrics and soothing saxophone to accompany. ‘Barber Shop’ is a fun piece with a catchy bass line and containing the ridiculous lyrics and great delivery which have appeared in of many his tracks before.
The album suffers a slight slump just after the halfway point, with tracks ‘A Sight For Sore Eyes’ and ‘Burma Shave’ leaving little lasting impression, whilst ‘Potter’s Field’ drags on just a little too long, ruining its otherwise entertaining cinematic effect. However, these flaws are quickly excused after the final track ‘Foreign Affairs’ is heard; a memorable piano piece amongst Waits’ finest to date.
Foreign Affairs does a great job of following up a respected album such as Small Change. Waits has never made the same album twice, and each record he makes mixes his many talents in new and exciting ways each time. It doesn’t require your full attention to enjoy, yet becomes even more enjoyable when given the time. Foreign Affairs is certain not to disappoint those fans of his earlier jazz and blues works, and is the perfect introduction to the vast improvement made on Blue Valentine.
I Never Talk To Strangers