I am very a much a fan of the Tom Waits who reinvented himself and who gave the world a unique sound. I am less a fan of the early Tom Waits, whose music was far less inventive and imaginative. That’s not to say I dislike ’70s Waits, more to say that I prefer his music from the 1980s onward and, if I had to choose, I wouldn’t really bother with his early music.
Well, Waits has always been a relatively interesting songwriter, with lyrics that deal with people who don’t normally get song lyrics – or who flat out don’t exist – and with his completely unique voice. But int the early years, his arrangements feel safe and sometimes even cliche. That’s less true on his first couple of records, but by the late ’70s, he had been milking this shtick for quite some time: a slow piano blues or a peppy jazzy number, or his voice drowned in syrupy strings. Once you’ve heard some of this, you’ve heard most of it, and all you have left is the lyrics.
The lyrics are above average, of course. They are vivid and they can make you feel a range of emotions. Waits is a consummate story teller, able to fit a short story into three or four minutes. Some of the lyrics here are among his best but some of them are not. It’s not his greatest set of songs, though how it stands up among the ’70s records, I’m not sure, as this is only the third I’ve heard (if I remember correctly).
Frankly, I’m glad Waits had whatever life-changing experience he had which made him decide to drastically rethink who he arranged his songs because this shtick is a little tired at this point. I still think he’s a better songwriter than most of others to emerge in the 1970s – if not all of them – but the arrangements feel formulaic and beneath him, especially if you know what he would do in the 1980s – which, of course, you coudln’t at the time.
7/10 for the quality of the lyrics