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Tom Waits – Swordfishtrombones (1983)

February 17, 2017


Stellar logo by Sarca @ caughtmegaming


[Album 517/1001]

There’s only one Tom Waits.

My high school principal agrees.

When I was chatting with him during the recent exam period, it was clear he was battling a cold.

So, naturally, I observed, “you’ve got a nice Tom Waits rasp today.”

To which he chuckled, and promptly disagreed, saying there’s actually something really beautiful about Waits’s delivery.

Can’t argue with that. There’s only one Tom Waits.


Within the next few days, battling a cold of my own, I was chatting with some other colleagues at school.

One remarked/asked the rhetorical question, “you’ve got a cold?”

I, rather immodestly, replied, “yeah I’ve got a bit of a Tom Waits raspiness today.”

To which my friend Emily immediately disagreed, “actually, you sound like a post-pubescent Kermit.”

Sadly, I couldn’t argue with that.

There’s only one Tom Waits (quantity of post-pubescent Kermits unknown).



With Swordfishtrombones, Waits sounds like Tom Waits, as evidently, only he can.

Of the quintet of records on the 1001 (Nighthawks, Heartattack, this, Rain Dogs, and Bone Machine), it may be my favourite.

But it may not matter.

With Elvis Costello, I had trouble distinguishing between what made for a decent/good/very good Costello recording, as I was left with similar impressions from each.220px-tomwaitsswordfishtrombones

I suppose the same could be said for Tom Waits, in that I’m not sure how easy it is to tell a career peak from a valley.

The big difference?

I think I could play a Costello record at any time, in any context, and have similar listening experience.

If I was in the unenviable situation of being in a Costello mood but somehow without access to any Costello records, there are several artists that would likely qualify as decent substitutes.

But with Waits, as I’ve learned this week, the context matters.

For maximum enjoyment, I’ve got to be in the mood.

But if I’m in the mood for Waits, absolutely nothing else will suffice.

There’s only one of him, after all.

He may sound like Cookie Monster…but at least he doesn’t sound like a post-pubescent Kermit.


Verbalize the Positive

I appreciate that many people I chat with in person inadvertently help me organize my thoughts for so many of these reviews. Even when those conversations result in me being the punchline!

From → 1980s

  1. Haha pre-pubescent Kermit! Burrnnn

    • Sorry, post-pubsecent. My bad. A pre-pubescent Kermit would just be Robin, surely? You definitely don’t want to sound like that.

      • Haha, I said the same thing at the time – well at least I was post rather than pre.
        I think her reply was, of course I called you ‘post,’ I’m not a monster!

  2. Tom Waits is an acquired taste – I get to almost like him – and kind of know he is supposed to be good — can never make it to enjoying his work. But as always , appreciate reading the post.

    • Thanks Wayne – acquired taste is a good way to put it. And I’ve learned that although I appreciate his work, the timing matters in terms of maximizing my enjoyment!

  3. Another classic record, oh man. I totally get what you’re saying, needing to be in the mood. I just may be in a Waits mood more often than you. I didn’t like him at all, at first, it was my lovely wife who got me started. Now it’s love of his work, and if he comes on in the mix, it’s always welcome!

  4. This will come as no surprise to you, but I’m awfy fond of this one. Loads of great stuff here. Some beauty and bonkersness.

  5. Emily permalink

    I adore Tom Waits, so I’m thrilled to be in this week’s anecdote!! I also appreciate that you’ve framed my hastily-worded observation in a positive way- there’s only one post-pubescent Kermit in my books!! (Actually, two, I guess.)

    • I learned a valuable lesson that day Emily, never compare yourself to a beloved artist, things can end poorly!

  6. Holen permalink

    Nighthawks in the Diner is on the 1001 list? Wow, never would have guessed that one would make it. Seems like one of his more obscure ones, I thought either Small Change or Closing Time would be the representative of his early work on the list.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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