Tom Waits


Sept 1983

A percussion feast of inspired songs

Alternative Rock, Jazz and Blues

The move to Island Records gave Tom Waits the opportunity to make a jazz inflected gem of an album that sounds spectacular.

Tom Wait’s stay at Island is the stuff of musical legend. Given the artistic freedom that came with such a smart British independent – this most American of songwriters could go full left tilt and frankly damn the critical torpedoes. And make it sound fabulous at the same time.

Released in September 1983, Swordfishtrombones signalled a radical shift in sound and style. Gone were the lush strings and piano serenade of Blue Valentine – in came the inventive, angular guitar rhythms of Downtown and Mr. Siegal on Heartattack & Vine – only here they were even more adventurous.

Comparisons to Captain Beefheart’s Clear Spot are obvious in the slightly discordant rock that still has a tune. But get down with the eerie soundscapes of Underground and Shore Leave – and you begin to notice secret weapons in the band – Fred Tackett and Victor Feldman. Tackett strangles every guitar note as Tom sings about being “in bad need of a shave” – while legendary jazz session man Feldman anchors each song with a huge array of dazzling percussion.

The sound is superb which actually makes the cheesy Hammond organ on Dave The Butcher sound even more surreal. He gets funky with 16 Shells From A Thirty-Ought Six – his vocal growl just extraordinary as he accents “kick that mule”. And just when you think it’s all vaudeville wit and eclecticism – you get the beautiful ballads Johnsburg, Illinois and In The Neighborhood – a song that sends chills down my spine when the trombones come in.