Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Currently listening: Foreign Affairs by Tom Waits (1977)

"Oh half drunk all the time and I'm drunk all the rest..."

The Tom Waits album that completes my collection (pretty much besides some B-sides collections). Foreign Affairs, the fifth from the his late-nightness, occupies the same dingy romantic crossroads that earlier masterpieces like Small Change and Heart of Saturday Night did, a five-alarm pile-up of Raymond Chandler, Jack Kerouac, Louis Armstrong and Bernard Herrmann (I'm not linking to any of those guys; Jesus, people, if you need me to, yr readin the wrong blog). You got your upbeat-beatnik spoken-word hopscotch (titled "Jack & Neal," natch), your film noir track ("Potter's Field," complete with movie soundtrack-style orchestral backup), your melancholy last-call lament ("Foreign Affair"), your nostalgic tearjerker lullabye ("Sight for Sore Eyes"), and the Bukowski bar-narrative "I Never Talk to Strangers," probably the album's best track. Bette Midler (remember, she had some weird street cred in the '70s!?) stops by for a drink in this charming tune, one of my favorites of his songs--in short you get everything that Tom Waits did so well in the '70s.

But in all honesty, there's nothing here as iconic as "The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)," "I Hope I Don't Fall in Love with You," "On the Nickel," "Better Off without a Wife," or "New Coat of Paint", either melodically or lyrically. I'm not surprised he bailed on this style an album or two later; the Hoagy Carmichael-style piano tipplings and drunken-pun couplets were beginning to wear a little thin. There--I said it!

Soon he'd run off and join the circus sideshow band for the rest of his career. Everybody's got their own tastes, but I guess I like drinking to songs about drunks and diners and dives and dames and the vista of an America long gone than the kaleidoscopic dark carnival he's been doing since. Now don't get all huffy; I love Swordfishtrombones as much as the next hipster at the bar... it's just that I'm more likely to stumble out from it into the night singing "Wasted and wounded/It ain't what the moon did/Got what I paid for now..."

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