Sticks And Stones Will Break My Bones…
“You’ll never recognize yourself at Heartattack and Vine…” Just like the opening verse implies, Tom Waits was in the midst of a major transformation in his career. Burnt out from his wino crooner image that he portrayed through most of his career, 1980’s Heartattack and Vine showed Waits struggling between letting go of the past and embracing his uncertain future.
Although the album is still in the same vein of his previous recording, Blue Valentine, Waits went onto seek a more stripped down and harsher sound than on his previous releases. Leaving lush string arrangements behind for junk guitars and a musky bar room feel, this record gives a cinematic feel to the listener. Much like with Foreign Affairs, he almost effortlessly proves his records could be a soulful soundtrack to a film or a bare bones stage production.
Starting with the title track “Heartattack and Vine“, the listening audience is immediately brought into a dark and dusty jazz nightclub that is unknown and un-cared for. The song itself portrays a more menacing and twisted version of Billy Joel‘s infamous “Piano Man“. This is the type of place that let’s people be themselves and embrace the mischievous side of the nightlife. Going onto the next track “In Shades” gives an instrumental break with bottles clanking and mysterious people having the night of their lives.
There are slight departures on this album though from his more back to basics sound. “Saving All My Love for You“, “On the Nickel“, “Ruby’s Arms“, and the Bruce Springsteen influenced “Jersey Girl” (later covered by Springsteen himself), all showed the much loved balladeering strings that followed Waits throughout his early career. However, like songs past, they prove to be the perfect accompaniment to his whip lashed vocals.
Heartattack and Vine also seems to be a sentimental goodbye to his past identities. It was also a goodbye to his longtime friend and producer Bones Howe. Unfortunately, Howe stated that he could not follow Waits in his new direction since Howe could not do him justice.
For the closure of this article, there’s nothing really to say that hasn’t been said by the man himself. All that rattles around in my melancholic mind is Tom‘s lyrics for the albums closing track “Ruby’s Arms“. So, without further ado…
You can check out the full album here and as usual, enjoy!