My attempt to blog all of the entries from the book 1001 Albums to Hear Before You Die
Brief Background: Swordfishtombones is seventh studio album by Tom Waits. It was recorded in the summer of 1982 and release in September 1983. This is the first of his albums he produced himself.
What I think: I first started listening to Tom Waits about ten years ago, it was really Brian Fallon from The Gaslight Anthem pushing Waits debut album Closing Time that got me going. I was really hooked on that album and started to branch out. Eventually, I came to this album and proceded to go back to to the early stuff. I just thought it was too weird with the strange instruments, odd arrangements, and Waits’ croon now often turned to a bark. You have a strange instrumental like “Dave the Butcher” followed by a Closing Time-esque “Johnsburg, Illinois” which proves that voice is still there if he wants to use it. What I didn’t know at the time is that this is sort of a transition point for him towards a weirder existence and he would really leave that lounge sound behind soon.
It took some time, but I eventually came back to this (and of course the follow-up Rain Dogs) and fell in love with the uniqueness of Waits in this second act of his career. My favorite song on the album is “16 Shells From a Thirty-Ought-Six”. As you can imagine the lyrics are something out of a western movie and they are wonderful. What makes the song though are the odd instruments that come and go. A horn here and another noise there. Then there are a couple cowbells that follow the beat, but sound almost random. Another highlight comes from “Franks Wild Years”, which is in the vein of Nighthawks at the Diner. It’s more a spoken word piece than a song, but I dare you not to laugh… even when you know you shouldn’t.
Some of the more difficult progressive rock sounds to me like everyone is playing a different song. This album often sounds like everyone playing a different song, but it somehow works out, comes together and makes another that is greater than those individual parts.
Do I agree or disagree with the writers as to this being an album you must listen to? I agree that is should be here. It’s one of the greatest left turns in a musicians career.
Rating (Out of 5) 4.0
Is this my first time hearing this album? No (126/528)