1993, Music

The Black Rider (1993) by Tom Waits

I’m always willing to listen to any Tom Waits record, particularly any record since he changed his sound, but I also agree with the general consensus that work written (or assembled) for stage shows rarely meets the level of an artist’s best work, especially when that artist is a singer-songwriter (who, by their very nature, do not normally write songs for plays). That’s what this record is, stage music.

As may or may not be appropriate to this kind of project, Waits really leans in to his theatricality here. Songs which, in other contexts, might already be somewhat theatrical feel excessively theatrical here, sometimes in terms of Waits’ performance – he is at his most over-the-top in terms of delivery of some of these vocals – and sometimes in terms of the production (particular mics or effects on his voice, sound effects which feel like they are from the stage production, etc). It borders on cliche.

As others have noted, Waits songs here range from among some of his better songs to filler instrumental tracks, of the kind you would normally find in a project like this. I’m happy to listen to that kind of thing, as I really enjoy Waits’ aesthetic, but I can’t imagine someone who didn’t already love Waits finding much in these interludes to get excited about. Sure, they’d probably work fine in the theatre, but on record they exist as background music. Also, as others have noted, some of these sound like outtakes from other albums, or ideas that never got turned into proper songs.

So this is very much a record for the Waits fan, after said fan has already found their way through all his best stuff. I rate it so high only because I really like his music and I generally enjoy listening to even his less successful projects. This is definitely fans-only.

6/10

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