The world is not my home, I'm just a-passin' through

Some artists do genre very well. AC/DC, for instance; Motorhead, these bands are rightly respected for sticking to type. Some artists are innovators, pushing things ahead that no-one had ever heard before.

Some people just are what they are, though. If I want to hear blues-metal, I may well turn to Back In Black. If I want to hear something innovative, I'll likely peruse the Warp or Leaf rosters. If I want to hear an old man sing gravelly blues spirituals, I'm learning to turn to Tom Waits. Because in all honesty, there's no-one really like Tom Waits.

I'm only learning now, mind. Why was this not something I had investigated before, I pondered to myself as I listened to Mule Variations. Particularly as some of the songs on there are stunningly lovely. I don't know. Who can fathom the hearts of men?

But learning I am, slowly. I'm taking a different approach to my recent, frankly quite scary, deep immersion in REM, this time I'm taking it one album at a time, quite gingerly. I'm beginning with Mule Variations, which was actually my first acquaintance of any sort with Waits - it was released on Epitaph in 1999, approximately the time I was running circles around my bedroom listening to NoFX and the Bouncing Souls, and Big In Japan found its way onto the Punk-o-rama vol 4 label sampler. This may have been the problem, given that it's possibly the weakest track on Mule Variations. Since then, people tried making me listen the likes of Swordfish Trombone and I just couldn't muster any interest.

Funny how things work out though. I was looking for something vaguely palatable on my mp3 player for office consumption (we have a fairly accepting office...) and happened across this, which I'd been leant a while back. It was a nice backdrop, these hymnal odes wafting across the late C20 open-plan stylings here, and soothed my troubled (at least, bored) soul.

It was the closing track that caught my attention. What a way to close an album. Come On Up To The House is in the spiritual vein, and it's an elegiac, hypnotically-repetitive song. It's all the better for the paucity of frequency coverage - it's really all about the voice. And what a voice! It's not the curling, sneering tone of the rest of the album, it's an entirely different beast: Waits can bellow. I mean really give it some welly like very few people can. I'm sure I've ranted about this before; it's all very well you mumbling into a microphone (I'm looking at you Gonzalez/Banhart etc.) but it's the ones who can really belt it out that are going to stick in the mind. Johnny Cash, Percy Sledge, you know the sort. Tom Waits absolutely hurls it out on this song and yet it remains beautiful, sweet and tender. What it means, who knows, but suffice to say this is a standout track on a very decent album, and is one of the most beautiful songs I've heard in quite some time.

I gave singing it a go this evening. Although I can apparently pull off a reasonably passable Waits, I could barely keep it up for one song, let alone a whole concert. The guy must tear up his throat, I bet he has those little nodule things.

Tom Waits - Come On Up To The House (Mule Variations, 1999)

1 comment:

Mariah said...

it makes me very happy when new people finally find the right connection point with waits. i can understand how swordfish trombones wouldn't be the most accessible on first listen, but give some of his other earlier stuff a try -- i'd also recommend the early yrs, vol 1&2, the heart of saturday night, small change... his voice has certainly changes over the years, but its character and root essence has only gotten better with time.

i saw him several years ago in toronto, and it was one of the top 5 shows i've seen -- he's an amazing performer...