Album Reviews: Real Gone by Tom WaitsI have a bias for music with melody. “Music” that is made to be intentionally experimental often leaves me cold…and scratching my head. Why would Tom Waits, who could make songs as beautiful as “Please Call Me Baby” (from 1974’s The Heart of Saturday Night) and “Downtown Train” (from 1985’s Rain Dogs) not want to make more of it? He’s completely dropped all sentimental and melodic sensibilities from his arsenal (and all traces of piano, as well). But that’s beside the point. Just because I miss his old bluesy, boozey, sentimental side, doesn’t mean he should try to please someone like me.
On the appropriately titled Real Gone, Waits seems to have fully morphed into a back-alley version of Oscar the Grouch – sucking on a bottle of Old Crow and chewin’ on a cheap stogie, while banging together garbage can lids and pontificating on his life in the trash. Frankly, it’s often frightening…but never entirely unlistenable, although the ten-minute “Sins of My Father” is particularly rough to trudge through. But you can always rely on Waits for wonderfully bitter and quotable lyrics -- on “Make It Rain,” Tom snarls “I’m not able, I’m just Cain.”
Waits is always interesting. I don’t think that’s even up for debate. But I feel like Real Gone is just another version of one of his prior experiments with sound (the one featured to greatest effect on 1992's Bone Machine), just served up in a different ashtray. He’s the only who does what he does…and he’s good at being Tom Waits. You have to respect an artist that tries to keep his art fresh and interesting for himself. I just don’t know who would listen to this album more than once. - Doug Kamin
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