Archive for September, 2009

TOM WAITS: Music for Grown-Ups Insider’s Guide #1

September 24, 2009

By Martin Cowan

Tom Waits may be the only true genius operating in rock music today.

Shedding his boho beatnik image seven albums into his career with an astounding left turn (1983’s Swordfishtrombones LP), Waits is one of the few writers and performers who has actually improved with age.

There is little doubt that Waits can be a challenging listen, his growled vocals taking some getting used to.

Whether his songs are blues stomps or schmaltzy ballads, like no-one else he adorns the material with a deliberately “lo-fi” sonic ambiance, featuring bizarre instrumentations and the deliberate distortion of his voice.

Waits is something of an enigma, fiercely guarding both his privacy and the artistic integrity of his music (he has successfully sued would-be advertisers using his songs). He rarely tours or gives interviews, and the mystique that surrounds him is probably unique in modern rock.

Highly respected, with quite a sideline in movie acting (he has starred with Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep and Gary Oldman), it is in the quality of the music where Waits’ originality really shines.
Clues to his post-Swordfish direction are there in some of his earlier songs (“Barber Shop” from 1976), but nothing quite prepares the listener for the bizarre and plain bonkers bent of some of the later material (“Cemetery Polka” 1985, “Russian Dance” 1993).

A poetic lyricist who crafts melodies that are simultaneously original and yet sound traditional, Waits is a master songwriter who maintains a rigid control of his output, writing and producing his CD releases, along with his wife Kathleen Brennan. Waits attributes his change of direction to Kathleen, and he is happy to credit her with saving his life from his drunken barfly days.

There is much to reward the dogged listener, and the schizophrenic nature of Tom Waits is no more evident than when comparing “Pony” and “Filipino Box Spring Hog” from 1999’s Mule Variations LP and the insane “Kommienezuspadt” with anything else from the Alice LP from 2002.

Waits has described his music as “grand weepers and grim reapers” and there is no better summary of the output of this unique, startling and innovative creative artist.

TOM WAITS: a 2CD primer

Disc 1

1) Cinny’s Waltz FOREIGN AFFAIRS 1976
2) Lullaby BLOOD MONEY 2002
3) Lie To Me ORPHANS 2006
4) Johnsburg, Illinois SWORDFISHTROMBONES 1983
5) Barber Shop FOREIGN AFFAIRS 1976
6) Alice ALICE 2002
7) Road To Peace ORPHANS 2006
8) Last Rose of Summer BLACK RIDER 1993
9) Franks Theme FRANKS WILD YEARS 1987
10) Saving All My Love For You HEART ATTACK AND VINE 1980
11) Clang Boom Steam REAL GONE 2004
12) World Keeps Turning ORPHANS 2006
13) Straight To The Top (Rhumba) FRANKS WILD YEARS 1987
14) Pony MULE VARIATIONS 1999
15) Such A Scream BONE MACHINE 1992
16) Hang Down Your Head RAIN DOGS 1985
17) You Can Never Hold Back Spring ORPHANS 2008
18) Whistlin Past The Graveyard BLUE VALENTINE 1978
19) November BLACK RIDER 1993
20) Time RAIN DOGS 1985
21) Spidey’s Wild Ride ORPHANS 2006
22) If I Have To Go ALICE 2002
23) Take Care Of All Of My Children ORPHANS 2006
24) Diamonds and Gold RAIN DOGS 1985
25) Woe BLOOD MONEY 2002
26) Black Box Theme BLACK RIDER 1993
27) Cemetery Polka RAIN DOGS 1985
28) I’m Still Here ALICE 2002 Disc 2

1) Fawn ALICE 2002
2) Somewhere BLUE VALENTINE 1978
3) Russian Dance BLACK RIDER 1993
4) Cold Cold Ground FRANKS WILD YEARS 1987
5) Filipino Box Spring Hog MULE VARIATIONS 1999
6) Whistle Down The Wind BONE MACHINE 1992
7) Down Down Down SWORDFISHTROMBONES 1983
8) Day After Tomorrow REAL GONE 2004
9) Starving In The Belly Of A Whale BLOOD MONEY 2002
10) Kentucky Avenue BLUE VALENTINE 1978
11) We’re All Mad Here ALICE 2002
12) A Little Rain BONE MACHINE 1992
13) Goin Out West BONE MACHINE 1992
14) No One Knows I’m Gone ALICE 2002
15) Let Me Get Up On It BONE MACHINE 1992
16) Jayne’s Blue Wish ORPHANS 2006
17 Low Side Of The Road MULE VARIATIONS 1999
18) In The Neighbourhood SWORDFISHTROMBONES 1983
19) Telephone Call From Istanbul FRANKS WILD YEARS 1987
20) Briar and the Rose BLACK RIDER 1993
21) Bend Down The Branches ORPHANS 2006
23) Kommienezuspadt ALICE 2002
24) I Don’t Wanna Grow Up BONE MACHINE 1992
24) Come On Up To The House MULE VARIATIONS 1999
25) Presents ONE FROM THE HEART 1982

© Martin Cowan 2009

(Music for Grown-Ups will be publishing similar Insider’s Guides to other musicians from all genres. If you’d like to contribute to the series, please contact website Editor – gerrysmith@musicforgrownups.co.uk – before you start writing.)

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The Beatles: over-rated

September 9, 2009

You’d need to be media-averse to have missed today’s launch of the re-masters of The Beatles’ albums. Newspapers, mags, tv and radio, in this part of the world at least, are overflowing with Fab Four hype.

It’s all gone over my head, though: the Beatles were – and are – over-rated.

I loved the first two albums and the early singles: massively refreshing, the Fabs swept away half a decade of appalling pop pap.

Yes, the Beatles were the biggest pop musicians ever, far more popular than everyone else. And yes, their influence was far wider than the pop charts.

But they were less interesting than the Stones; and they weren’t even my fave mid-1960s Scouser popsters – take a bow, Gerry… The Searchers… The Big Three… and several more Merseybeat bands.

To compare the Beatles’ legacy, as many halfwit journalists have done in the current frenzy, to that of Dylan is plain stupid – it’s like comparing Dylan with Madonna or Abba. The Beatles were show biz entertainers. Dylan is the 20thC’s dominant musician.

I haven’t played a Beatles record for over 20 years; there’s little chance of that changing, re-masters or not.

Gerry Smith

Radiohead at Reading

September 2, 2009

If you didn’t catch headliners Radiohead’s gig at Reading Festival on TV last weekend, you can still check it out on BBC Red Button (and maybe online at iPlayer).

The gig was sensational. Playing a one hour (on TV) greatest hits set, Radiohead showed just why they are revered: a memorable, diverse, anthemic songbook, musical vision and innovation rarely encountered in rockpop, and a charismatic main man in Thom Yorke.

And the Reading staging did justice to the great music pouring from the speakers.

Marvellous stuff – Reading underlined Radiohead’s claim as the most interesting rockpop band since The Stone Roses.

If you can’t catch the BBC recording, consider buying the recent Best Of CD.

Gerry Smith