The Heart of Saturday Night saw Tom Waits take the smoky balladry of debut Closing Time and polish it into a refined, slightly offbeat singer-songwriter offering. Equal parts jazz-pop, shadowy construct, and beat caricature, this record fills my headphones like a dense broom cupboard of sound. Waits’ delivery occupies it well, too. His voice echoed a richer, tuneful Nashville Skyline era Dylan more than a demonic woodsman, and it’s the perfect tool for the post-bar, post-adolescence nocturnal stories featured here. I have to admit to being blissfully unaware that the great man (no irony intended), spent time living in National City (an offshoot of San Diego), and it’s certainly an experience listening to him rasping about places I’ve spent the last year living around on “Diamonds On My Windshield,” perhaps a harbinger of the stylistic variance to come, with its slightly off-beat jazz structure and lyrical content (“colder than a well-diggers ass“?!).
Much of Heart is made up of the type of piano ballads that tread the right side of the poignancy-dubious charity advert line. “San Diego Serenade” could definitely be used to sell laxatives or showcase the emotiveness of orchestration, but I’m still stunned by its “never felt my heart-strings, until I nearly went insane” refrain. “Semi-Suite” is a mellower, languid, affair. The lyrics are quite bitter, in a throwaway fashion; I’m smiling because of the horns and piano, let alone the sardonic content. “Please Call Me Baby” is quite fantastic. Its guy lost girl story is as predictable as an Elvis flick, but its heartache is expressed spectacularly. It departs with Waits singing “I don’t want you catching your death of cold from walking in the rain,” and somehow the strings, the schmaltz, and the headache combine so it’s otherworldly. Plus points are awarded to anybody capable of creating lines like “I’m selfish and I’m cruel but you’re blind,” and “If I exorcise my devils, well my angels may leave too/ and when they leave they’re so hard to find.”
Tom Waits sophomore effort is perhaps his most commercial sounding, and certainly among his best. And as a musical time capsule to an earlier era in Treble’s hometown of San Diego, it would be hard not to include.
Similar Albums/Albums Influenced:
Tom Waits – Closing Time
Ed Harcourt – Here Be Monsters
Joe Henry – Scar