Swordfishtrombones cover

Swordfishtrombones

Released

In 1980, Tom Waits met Kathleen Brennan while they were both working on Francis Ford Coppola’s One From The Heart. They married, and soon she was nudging him out of the jazzy singer-songwriter zone he’d been in for seven albums toward a raucous, clanking world of sound influenced by Captain Beefheart, Harry Partch, and Howlin’ Wolf. Swordfishtrombones, his first release for new label Asylum, literally draws you into its sonic universe with the song “Underground.” Come on inside, Waits says, and begins telling stories about freakish characters and their bizarre lives, occasionally erupting in fits of surreal braggadocio (“16 Shells From a 30.6”). We hear the rattle of tapped hubcaps, muted horns, rock ’n’ roll guitars and thumping backbeats, and a surprising variety of drones — harmonium, bagpipes, accordion. Every once in a while, he still sits down at the piano and lets his sentimental side out to play, though (“Johnsburg, Illinois,” “Soldier’s Things”).

Phil Freeman

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