Tom Waits- Transformer

Primal beats, the voice of the devil- to late night Jazz, scat and back again. Tom Waits- transformer.

There never will be, and never has been, something as radically diverse as Tom Wait’s back catalogue. The man began his career playing late night country-folk-jazz, now he screams down the microphone with stone cold primal beats backing him, like a scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey. The man is a transformer; his debut album Closing Time is tinged with sweet melancholy, a man and his guitar/piano backed by a relatively thin band- a bare drum-kit and the nicest and warmest voice imaginable. Yes the young Mr Waits knew how to swoon and croon an audience into the palm of his hands- the album’s standout track ‘Martha’ appears to be an ode to a high-school sweetheart, a lost love forgotten over time. The man’s voice stretched bare over strings and choral singing. Yes, this album was even sweet enough to grab The Eagles attention, who managed to steal- and ruin- the album’s opener ‘Ol’55’. The next year Tom Waits released The Heart Of Saturday Night and extension of the same late-night melancholy seen on his first album; this effort saw the artist become a master of his craft. The album perfectly catches the atmosphere of after-midnight jazz in the clubs of New York City and San Diego. This stage of Wait’s ever-spanning career is best classed as ‘late night melancholy’- an album you could sit alone and listen to, or share its tales of love and despair with a friend or lover. Tom Waits, 1973-4, is tender.

Later on in his career, Waits became known as a stage sensation. His speeches between songs or sets are laugh-out-loud funny; the artist began to attract a cult following. Within the later 70’s Waits has established himself as a key artist on the Jazz scene and began releasing live albums, these albums showcased Waits’ ability to capture the audience, his ability to create an intimate atmosphere within crowds of hundreds of people. From this Waits began to embrace the more experimental side of Jazz: he began to drop the loneliness featured within the first two albums and instead focuses on humour, on strange rhythms and melodies in an attempt to excite the audience. This stage of Wait’s career is best captured on the 1976 album: Nighthawks At The Diner in which Wait’s supplies a comedic introduction to every song on the album: listen to ‘Better Off Without a Wife’ (With Introduction)- the song ‘Emotional Weather Report’ see’s Waits croon a weather report with backing music. The artist’s experimentation with scat and Jazz-speech can be seen on 1982’s: Swordfishtrombones and the track ‘Frank’s Wild Years’.

During the eighties, Tom Waits took on the title of producer and spent a lot of time crafting a solely original sound. The artist began to experiment even more, and seemed to drop the sweetness of earlier recordings, even dropping the piano and traditional instruments to embrace a new- wild –sound. In 1985 Tom Waits releases the album Rain Dogs that has been ranked, by Rolling Stone, as the fourteenth best album of the 1980’s. The album has been praised for it’s odd musical style, mixing numerous genres to create a singularly original sound. On the album Waits incorporates odd primal rhythms, traditional instruments are dropped in favour of stranger instruments: accordions, marimbas, and xylophones. The album has extreme cases of dissonance and atonality- the artist adopts a new style of singing, critics began to draw comparisons between Waits and the devil as his music began to get progressively darker. His albums began to scream, whereas previously they would whisper, the late-night tenderness has been lost to a sense of late-night brawling. During this era Tom once again became known as a stage sensation, his BIG TIME tour was described as his most hectic ever with performances likened to that of a circus.

During the 1990’s and 2000’s Tom Waits once again changed his core sound. The artist began to experiment further with traditional blues structures, new –unconventional- instruments, and an even darker, raw style of singing. In 1992 Wait’s released the album Bone Machine; the album has lyrical themes regarding death and murder. Famously the album was recorded in a basement to aid to its raw, ‘painful’, sound. It was at this point that people began to compare Waits with the voice of the devil, described by critic Daniel Durchholz as sounding “like it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car.”

In 2011 Tom Waits was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Ben Allen

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