Today's Track of the Day:
Tom Waits - Ol' 55
Early Tom Waits mainly comes in two flavors. There's the Melancholy Ballad - Waits has a real gift for matching sweetly minor-key melodies with evocative lyrics about love gone wrong. And then there's the Weirdly Perverse Cabaret, with uptempo jazzy music and lyrics that range from stream-of-consciousness rambling to bizarre and sometimes kind of disturbing stories, frequently delivered in a kind of spoken-word monotone while he and the band vamp in the background. He still does this stuff; "Alice" is a great ballad from the eponymous album, and "Misery Is The River Of The World" off of Blood Money is, beneath the eerie music, a good late example of the Perverse Cabaret. He's gotten more interesting, writing songs about all kinds of odd things and showing a real fascination with unusual musical textures, but you can see the seeds of his later work in the early stuff.
"Ol' 55" is the first track on Closing Time, which I think was his first album. So it's the earliest example of the Melancholy Ballad - lyrics about leaving his lover early in the morning, wishing he hadn't. It's actually pretty upbeat for an MB, but the superficial cheerfulness seems (to me, anyway; maybe I'm hearing stuff that isn't there - wouldn't be the first time) to be concealing a deeper regret. It's brilliant at capturing the a conflicted emotional state that I've experienced myself from time to time - mingled joy and regret. The lyrics have the song taking place right at dawn, and the transition between night and day parallels the emotional transition of the narrator: it's twilight both literally and figuratively. Which may seem a little on the nose, laid out like that, but the effect is pretty clever for a three-minute pop song. It's good stuff.