Tom Waits - Real Gone


Reviewed by Andrew Clark

So, 21 years down the line, Tom Waits has finally shaken off the piano. In a career that’s encompassed late night, liquored-up laments to love gone wrong, horror polkas, small town operettas, teeth-rattlingly percussive hollered blues, William S Burroughs, Keith Richards, Downtown, Uptown, out of town, heaven, hell and God only knows where else, the piano has always been there even if Waits was just wondering how it would sound if he threw it out the window. Well, now it’s gone, and what do we get instead? Why, human beatboxing and turntables, naturally. And the strange, strange thing is that it really works…

"Real Gone" - The Tom Waits Album

Real Gone is Waits’s most vital album in 12 years, and there are many reasons why this is the case, but on first listen it’s the instrumentation that grabs you. Somewhere between tribal music and hip hop, the noises Waits forces from his voice on tracks like Top Of The Hill and Metropolitan Glide are not like anything else you’ll find in his back catalogue let alone anywhere else. Waits recorded his vocals in his bathroom because he liked the sound, and incredibly he claims not to have used looped vocals… the image of Waits, locked in his bathroom, hacking, grunting and screaming his way through Don’t Go Into That Barn (a charming tale of a madman “high on potato and tulip wine” hiding in the barn outside) is too compelling for words. Marc Ribot’s guitar playing throughout this record is incendiary, frantic and completely brilliant, veering from lunatic flamenco to aged and battered blues- why Waits ever did an album without him is an utter mystery. Anyone with a knowledge of Waits’s previous work will also be pleased to see the return of Larry Taylor on bass, and Waits’s son Casey appears to good effect on extra percussion and turntable duty.

Tom Waits Singing Voice

And then there’s the voice. Pitched at seismic levels on Green Grass, at full-throttle roar on Make It Rain, and frankly sounding like the guy from Slayer on the chorus of Hoist That Rag, Waits is frequently at the very limit of control over his singing, but stays magnificently on target. There is nobody in the world who sounds like Tom Waits, and although he’s possibly lost part of the awesome power he had on Bone Machine or Heartattack And Vine, he’s replaced this with a bruised, knowing vulnerability. This side of his voice is best reflected by the incredibly moving final track of Real Gone (Day After Tomorrow) in which Waits is in character as a soldier stuck far from home, and staring down the barrel of a war he doesn’t want to be in. Although a plethora of Bush-baiting, anti-war tunes have been released recently, I can’t think of any that make their point as directly and to such universal effect as this.

Criticisms of the album "Real Gone"

Criticisms of Real Gone? Well there aren’t many… you could probably convince me that Clang Boom Steam is a bit redundant, but some filler is inevitable on a 16 track album. Lyrically, there is a sense that Waits is repeating his stock themes, which in recent years appear to consist mainly of love, age and terror in the countryside, but who else does this? Who else sings about orang-utans named Tripod? His characterisation is sharp and detailed on this record, hilarious and horrifying by turns, and he breathes life through even the most familiar themes.

Tom Waits is Back

More importantly, there should be a dark bar somewhere packed with people slow-dancing their way through Make It Rain, and jiving like lunatics to Shake It. Waits is back with this album, and this time he wants you dancing as well as thinking. Don’t let Tom Waits down.

Dont forget to visit The Official Tom Waits website

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