Title: Pop Eye - Waits Tries Topical On For Size
Source: Los Angeles Times. Steve Hochman. As published on Anti website July 9, 2004
Date: June 27, 2004
Key words: Real Gone, Casey Waits


Waits Tries Topical On For Size

Steve Hochman

Tom Waits wanted to try a few different things for his next album, "Real Gone."

"I wore a blond wig and spandex all the time," he says. "Helped me with my character. And kids love the record, little kids. They like songs about death."

He's joshing. We think. And there is, in fact, a kid element to the collection - his own kid. Casey Waits, the 18-year-old son of Waits and wife-collaborator Kathleen Brennan, makes key contributions on the album, adding percussion and turntables to such songs as the bluesy urban nightmare "Metropolitan Glide."

"It's great and weird at the same time," Waits says. Father and son had played together just a little bit in concert and on record before(1). "It was both euphoric and embarrassing - for him. I mean, playing with your dad!"

In some ways the album seems like the start of a new phase for the gruff-voiced artist. Where 1999's "Mule Variations" (his first for independent Epitaph Records' Anti label) and the simultaneous 2002 releases of theater-based albums "Alice" and "Blood Money" seem almost a career summary, "Real Gone," the 20th album of new material in Waits' more than 30 years of recording, takes some new tacks.

Fans need not panic - it's not a radical departure. But there are some new approaches. Sonically, many of the songs were built on simulated percussion tracks that Waits recorded using just his voice and a four-track in the bathroom of his home. It's a technique he'd toyed with before, but never to this extent.

"I was determined to kind of go all the way that way," Waits says. "I'm all by myself with a tape recorder and trying to sound like a band. It's not tape loops, you know. I would do it for 3 1/2 minutes. When you can't find the sound you're looking for, you make one up. Mine are very crude, like me."

The results are sometimes like surreal field chants or rusty machinery, on top of which longtime associates Marc Ribot and Larry Taylor (on guitar and bass, respectively) crafted vivid tracks. Primus bassist Les Claypool and veteran funk drummer Brain also played on some songs.

While the noir, spoken-word "Circus" and Cuban-influenced "Dead and Lovely" wouldn't be out of place on other recent Waits albums, "Trampled Rose" feels almost like a Malian rhythm. And the epic, reggae-ish "Sins of My Father" has an almost Dylan-like cadence to the narrative, which spans more than 10 minutes.

The song that might get the most attention, though, is "The Day After Tomorrow," the album's closer and a rare foray for Waits into topical subject matter. The song is essentially a letter from a soldier just trying to make it another day before he is scheduled to return home. Aside from a reference to a plane touching down, it could as easily be from the Civil War as from Iraq. But Waits says it was very much formed from current events.

"You have to be able to write about what goes on around you," he says. "Pick up a newspaper, write a tune. That's all I was trying to do. Not like I'm making speeches at the U.N. But there's nothing but war in the papers now. The whole world's at war."


(1) Father and son had played together just a little bit in concert and on record before: Casey Xavier Waits played on the 4-track album 'Hold On' (1999). Drums and co-writer ("Big Face Money"). During the Mule Variations tour he replaced Andrew Borger (drums) a couple of times for "Big In Japan" (Congresgebouw, The Hague Holland. June, 21, 1999)