Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One…
Foreign Affairs seems to be glanced over when it comes to Tom Waits discography and it’s hard to understand why! Although it may not be as infamous as its older brother Small Change, the album gives as an interesting look at the end of Waits balladeering piano soaked performance.
Upon going into the studio, Tom Waits and producer Bones Howe sat down to talk about what theme they would fit the upcoming album. After listening to some demos that Waits presented, Howe thought the music sounded like the soundtrack to a black and white film. The albums cover encapsulates the same vintage film noir feeling of espionage and Hollywood sex appeal. Luckily, the songs follow the same path.
Opening with the instrumental “Cinny’s Waltz“, the listener is immediately brought into a cinematic world. You can see the opening credits rolling while the camera follows a man walking through the rain soaked streets of a big city with cars wizzing by. Who knows, maybe he ducks into a bar to finally escape the weather and lament on his lost love in the track “Muriel“. However, our melancholic character knows he needs to move on and the good looking dame at the end of the bar happens to have an open seat next to her. Maybe they’ll start up a conversation with “Never Talk To Strangers”.
Track after track musically and lyrically builds a nostalgic black and white backdrop that mixes Waits iconic drunken jazz with tales about love, being bamboozled, and starting a new life in California. “Potter’s Field” is the pinnacle of this cinematic experience though with Waits riffing over the top of a walking bass, a tale of what happens when you double cross the mysterious gang leader The Nightstick!
The only tracks that seem to be an odd fit for the album are “A Sight For Sore Eye’s“, which sounded like a discarded track from the previous record, and the song “Barber Shop” where Waits embodies a busy barber that talks of sports, women, and how he gives the best haircuts in the world. By no means are either of these tracks terrible or lack luster. They’re just odd and interesting picks for the album.
Finally, the closing number and self titled “Foreign Affair” tells the tale of travelling and espionage warning the listener, “when travelling abroad…one must attempt to be discreet“.
Foreign Affairs is a sadly overlooked album in Tom Waits interesting and ever changing catalogue. It’s disappointing that the record looms in the shadows of the more infamous Small Change, which is indeed an amazing record, but Foreign Affairs marks the beginning of the end for Waits nostalgic and crooning melodies of days gone by. But much like the final words uttered… “it will only be parlayed into a memory“.
You can check out the full album in the link below! Enjoy!!