Saturday, 20 October 2012

Never recognise yourself... Heartattack & Vine (1980) - Tom Waits

From the opening of this album you are hit with the sleaziest of riffs, dug from the depths and denizens of a seedy LA Hell. Heartattack and Vine is often dismissed as a ‘transitional’ album, straddling two distinct phases of Tom Waits prolific career, but for me it is the 'Great Rasper' at his very best. Sombre but groovy licks, potent lyrics and vivid scenes of LA street life and nostalgia combine for one of the most enduring of listens in my music collection. Without a doubt I would put this in my top five it is that good! 

The title track - which opens the album - encourages you to dim the lights, pour yourself a large bourbon and indulge in a pack of Lucky Strikes. As I sat and wrote this review I was working to just a desk lamp, shot and a beer by my side (a cigar would also feature had I not been in throws of Stoptober). The atmosphere is set by the music, sparse and dirty with Waits unique delivery working its way into the finer recesses of your mind. Like the Pot Noodle of the previous post, this chestnut transports me back to my first year at University in Leeds, Bodington Halls. 

I listened to this album over and over as I prepared to embark on some ill-advised club night or another, sipping on my drink of choice back then, bourbon and dry ginger and smoking Royal Dutch cigarillos as the title track slipped into the lilting instrumental ‘In Shades’ a tune that evokes shifty characters brawling in West Coast bars - the guitar playing on this track is particularly awesome. 

Suddenly the album takes a different, macabre tone, as if you’ve stepped into a graveyard or an empty house in great disrepair. ‘Saving all my love for you’ is in no way related to the Whitney Houston song of the same name, the tone is so different, the 80s soulstress was full of hope and expectation, Waits is full of despair, regret and resignation but no less romantic. It is a song you could imagine a lamenting Clym Yeobright from Return of the Native singing. 

‘Downtown’ takes us back to the Chivas Regal, $4 rooms and hookers - Hammond Organ a-swirling - the gritty world of Waits’s LA before an oft copied original ‘Jersey Girl’ gets its first outing in its illustrious history. Atmosphere follows with ‘Til’ the money runs out’ giving an indication, if an ever so slight one, of where Waits was to go with the experimental Swordfishtrombones (1983). But this is mere frippery compared to the album’s zenith ‘On the nickel’ 

A fully orchestrated track, like something from a Rogers & Hammerstein musical, ‘On the nickel’ both showcases Waits extraordinary voice but also his gift as a musician. A wonderful story, like a great show tune offset with an emotional impact not found on the stage, I can only imagine what it must have been like to have been at the recording session for this song. The cut focuses on depression era Los Angeles and the strife of many destitute labourers and families, Waits taps into them, he gives the characters meaning but most importantly he paints a picture that everyone might appreciate. If you listen to one Waits song in your life then please make it this one. 

The rest of the album includes a raucous, bluesy track ‘Mr Siegal’ which certainly helped many a drink slip gently down the little red lane in the past and the final ballad ‘Ruby’s Arms’ which for me is the weakest track and one that I tend to disregard, not out of doubt for the musical ability but that I don’t care for it that much! 

Whatever your fancy, this is an album that you simply much invest in, 10/10 for me!

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