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Still a crooner then, but things were starting to change
on April 29, 2002
Tom Waits has had a career in music that is mercurial at best. His 1973 debut CLOSING TIME was probably the closest he got to recording a tried-and-true singer-songwriter album, but the follow-up, 1974's HEART OF SATURDAY NIGHT, proved that, lyrically at least, Tom was beginning to make changes that would drastically alter his sound & image. It was a slow process, but by 1978's BLUE VALENTINE, the fruits of that change were starting to show. Tom's voice was just beginning to get more edgy & his lyrics were starting to go off into other dimensions altogether. Yet there was still melody high up in the mix, making BLUE VALENTINE a good way to ease into the more experimental stuff.
I was shocked as well as anyone when I heard the album open with "Somewhere" from WEST SIDE STORY. But it's the voice that sings it, an early example of gravel-voiced Waits that at first jars the listener, then suddenly sounds natural. Definitely the most original interpretation of this song!
Furthermore, the imagery in Tom's lyrics was getting more & more unique. Titles like "Red Shoes By The Drugstore", "Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis", "Whistlin' Past The Graveyard" & "A Little Bullet From A Pretty Blue Gun" with words to match are proof that Tom was on the road to a different musical journey that would both leave longtime listeners behind & welcome even more newer ones. In fact, this is the album that turned me into a Tom Waits fan.
For those still floored by Tom's sudden musical change of heart, there were songs like "Romeo Is Bleeding", "Kentucky Avenue" & "Blue Valentines", which were still musically close to Waits' earlier work, but the lyrics were showing signs of evolution. They should probably listen with caution to "$29.00", for the unorthodox rhythm to that song hints at the amusical approach Waits was working towards at the time.
BLUE VALENTINE is often given a glossing-over in Tom Waits' legacy, calling it a transitional work at best. Sure it may have been, but even that from Tom Waits is guaranteed to be better than most other artists'. You could tell that Tom was starting to evolve, but he still had one foot left in the past, not quite ready to abandon his previous sound just yet. Those lovers of early Tom Waits who've found his later work to be a trying experience, BLUE VALENTINE will be a good introduction of Tom Waits moving from normal to out-there.