This album is kind of a split between Waits’ bluesy songs and his “poetic rants.” The only problem with the album per se is that he’s been doing this kind of stuff for five albums now and while he’s still good at it (great at it, actually), it’s probably time for a change (which he does on the next album). This is not to say that the songs themselves are weaker than others, or that they are not at least slightly unexpected (the eight minute “Potter’s Field” is quite unexpected), just that when you know what he’s going to be doing, this album feels like a pre-transition, one might even say a rut.
The disc opens with a pretty piano waltz (“Cinny’s Waltz”) that segues right into his jazzy nightclub sounding (ie. piano and sax) track “Muriel.” The third track, “I Never Talk to Strangers” is a duet with Bette Midler (which I think makes sense given her persona, but I have simply never liked her–maybe that’s why I don’t like this album as much as I could).
“The Medley of Jack & Neal (about Kerouac and Cassidy) is a long rambling story about the two beats, it ends with a riff on “California Here I Come.” In a similar vein–alluding to appropriate music–”A Sight for Sore Eyes” opens with the music from “Auld Lang Syne” before turning into one of Waits’ weepy ballads.
The second half of the disc is more storytelling as song. “Potter’s Field” tells a lengthy story with occasional blasts of saxophone. About midway through, it begins to sound like more of a musical–with the music adding dramatic effects to the lyrics–this may be a kind of foretelling of his more operatic music from Swordfishtrombones. “Burma-Shave” is another long story (over 6 minutes). This one is much darker (a fairly straightforward story of meeting a bad guy and going for a drive), but it’s a pretty good story for all of its noirishness. “Barbershop” has a great bassline, but it is indeed about getting a haircut. The album ends with the title cut, a sung ballad.
His next album, Blue Valentine, features electric guitars and keyboards and will change the sound of his songs quite a bit.
[READ: September 25, 2011] “Beatrixpark: An Illumination”
I don’t think I have read too many contemporary Italian authors (Italo Calvino is the only one who springs to mind). Realistically, this shouldn’t make any difference to anything but this story seemed so off to me that I have to wonder if it’s something about Italian authors or if it is Voltolini is particular.
The story begins by explaining that the main character is a man from the south. Being very conscious of the fact that the author is Italian, not American, I worked hard to think of the bottom of the boot as opposed to Alabama. Of course, being from Southern Italy doesn’t mean anything to me really, but I kept it in mind. Then I find out the story is set in Amsterdam. And then several paragraphs in, we learn that he is from Southern Europe somewhere. Sigh. To quote the story, “Gimme a break, provincial middle-aged man from the south! Fuck off, why don’t you?” (more…)