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Tom Waits | Real Gone | review | alternative | Lollipop

Tom Waits

Real Gone (Anti)
by Brian Varney

After 2002's twin forays into European musical theatre, Alice and Blood Money, Tom Waits is back to doing what he does best, which is making Tom Waits albums. Alice and Blood Money were obviously Tom Waits albums - it says so right on the spine of the CD - but they were newly-recorded old material and a studied departure from his recent direction. Real Gone is a return to the territory Waits has rummaged through for the past 20 years or so, with a few surprises thrown in to make sure nobody gets bored.

Opener "Top of the Hill" is a good example of this. It's a classic example of the lurching, clanging style that Waits has perfected and likes to refer to as "cubist funk." On the other hand, the presence of turntables and sampled "mouth percussion" (beat boxing, basically) moves the song and the album into uncharted territory. Yeah, you'll hear songs like "Dead and Lovely," which could just as easily have appeared on Rain Dogs or Mule Variations, but the presence of the new elements makes the album an uneasy combination of familiar and alien, which is not such a bad reaction to have to a Tom Waits album. He's a devotee of classic American musical forms like Tin Pan Alley, country blues, and Alan Lomax's field recordings, so even at his weirdest and most dissonant, Waits' songs have strong ties to traditional songwriting, which means that, for American audiences, anyway, those who choose to listen will hear very familiar things happening under the creaking, rasping maelstrom.

Real Gone is good news for Waits fanatics, especially those who were disappointed by the "traditional" nature (I use that term in the loosest possible sense) of Alice and Blood Money, both of which were much more reminiscent of Beatnik-era Waits than anything he's done since the Asylum days. Real Gone displays the Tom Waits we've come to know and love because it's familiar and also because it's not, and more importantly, it's a strong album and a fine retort to those who wonder why so many people continue to listen to the increasingly noisy output of such a crusty old fuck.


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