Real Gone: Remixed/Remastered Review - The Independent




In a world where everything from Sgt Pepper to What’s Going On? is considered fair game for remix “upgrading”, it’s only slightly surprising – given his nose is generally sniffing the future rather than the past – to find Tom Waits offering this revised version of his rasping, clanky collection of “cubist funk” Real Gone, which was already pretty perfect to begin with.

Still, at least he’s taken the trouble to do the overhaul himself, in alliance with his partner and co-writer Kathleen Brennan; and between them they’ve managed to render more clearly some of the album’s less obvious themes and aspects, previously partly concealed behind the pock-marked, percussion-speckled surface activity – not the least being Waits’s own beatboxing, which is dialled down here. On the opening “Top Of The Hill”, for instance, Waits’s vocal and Marc Ribot’s spiky guitar are both much clearer, the song’s grim imprecations offering an ironic comment of sorts on the remix exercise: “If I had to do it over again/I’d try and rise above the laws of man.”

The overall result is that raw nerves are more painfully exposed: stumbling across an arid plain of desolate banjo, “How’s It Gonna End” comes across like a mordant equivalent of Cohen’s “Who By Fire”; while the sinister background drone added to “Don’t Go Into That Barn” lends a deeper undertone of menace beneath the hysteria. It’s an album full of troubled ghosts and rustic superstitions, Waits painting a series of grim backwoods tableaux that expose the rotten underbelly of the American pioneer mythos.

The centrepiece is the 10-minute opus “Sins Of My Father”, suffocating in ancestral guilt and retribution, but there’s room elsewhere for heartbreaking melancholy in the haunting “Trampled Rose”, while atavistic dance urges are indulged in the “Metropolitan Glide”.

But the balance between abrasion and tenderness that characterises Real Gone is perhaps best conveyed in the two military songs at opposite ends of the album. Spiky guitar, bathetic trombone and Waits’s most scorched, rasping vocal evoke the brutalised terror of marines hitting a shore in “Hoist That Rag”. Later on, the flag of victory presumably hoist at considerable human cost, a weary combatant anticipating his return home “The Day After Tomorrow” wonders sadly, “How does God choose/Whose prayers he does refuse?”.