31 December 2009

Tom Waits – Glitter and Doom Live

I had hoped to have my traditional year-end post up by now, but I have been more long-winded than usual, and will have to up it in the next day or so. Apols! In the meantime, here's some Tom Waits for y'all. See you in the one-oh!

ANTI- (2009)

(FACT)

If I didn't know better, I'd sense that something was winding down a tad. Glitter and Doom, as the title implies, is a live album, three years after triple-disc closet-cleaning collection, Orphans. He has released two albums of all-new music in the last decade. Rather than suggesting any kind of mercenary, contractual-obligation fulfilling, behaviour, this seems more to be putting a career's affairs in order. Tom Waits isn't getting any younger. So it stands to reason that he'd want to cross the 'T's and dot the 'I's of a career that justifies such careful housekeeping. A ghoulish thought, admittedly, but a logical one nonetheless.

As Waits grows older – estimates suggest he is now over ten thousand years of age – he sounds more and more like an incredibly charismatic death metal vocalist. Take 'Get Behind the Mule', introduced as a song 'about the very first vehicle': the music sounds rather like the bins in Tin Pan Alley receiving a kicking, and Waits expels demonic noises like he's about to join prime Obituary. It's a fantastic performance, and but one of many dimensions to Waits. What is also clear from this song is Waits' rare ability, as a white man, to invoke the blues and not have it sound infinitely smug.

Indeed, Waits seems intent on discovering whether it is possible to have too much of a good thing: Glitter and Doom Live is long. Not necessarily longer than a great many records in the CD age, but it involves a level of investment; whether emotion, intellect or just sheer attention; that can fatigue. Whether too long or not, this record is most definitely a good thing. Waits is one of those performers both sufficiently compelling and veteran to be able to omit some real classics and not suffer.

We have plenty of gold to mine. In the first batch of songs, the curmudgeonly, bludgeoning, 'Singapore' and the battered, stoical melancholy of 'Dirt in the Ground'. Later on, the delightful 'I'll Shoot the Moon', a song whose magnificence remains unbesmirched as your reviewer has not heard the Scarlett Johansson cover. Not much in the way of singles” Rod Stewart fans will have to do without 'Downtown Train'; likewise, The Wire fans and 'Down in the Hole'. A personal absence is 1983's utterly masterful 'In the Neighbourhood', a song whose lyrical and musical depth would qualify it for American national anthem, in a perfect alternate reality.

In actual reality, we are distracted by the carny likes of Heath Ledger's Joker starring in an aural Tim Burton film, in 'Circus'. Or the ennui-drenched warning of 'Fannin Street'. Having not heard the Alice or Blood Money albums, 'The Part You Throw Away' was a pleasant surprise as it lurched out of the speakers like a misunderstood vagabond. And I suppose that's the beauty of Tom Waits: there is always something of his that you haven't heard, and it takes a collection such as this to shed some light on those unlit corners of his nocturnal world.

As if to press home the point that loose ends are being tied up, Glitter and Doom contains a bonus disc of Waits' on-stage banter, anecdotes and digressions. It's a diverting enough way to spend one's time, though no more essential than the similar Fugazi mp3 that's currently doing the rounds, and certainly not on the level of, say, the infamous Buddy Rich tapes. The whole is the point, though. This is a snapshot of a truly one-of-a-kind performer in full swing. It's hard to imagine anyone really disliking the man; while he's been doing this for decades, his act never gets old.

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