Sometimes you just fall into albums. This is certainly one of those instances.
Tom Waits is goddamn genius and I have been throwing myself further and further into his oeuvre for several years now. Truthfully, I am not 100% sure on how I found them. A combination of factors. Two stick out clearly to me. The documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, which has a ton of Tom Waits music on it (including God’s Away on Business over the closing credits) and a friend of mine who was already deep into Tom Waits, pushed me over the edge.
So I explored all of the usual groundbreaking stuff. And, there was definitely a strong period of time where Tom Waits was the soundtrack of my days. Especially the Orphans record.
Then time passed, and I didnt really go any deeper than the man stuff. The man has 16 albums, and I didnt have the resources at that time to dive into it. Then…..something saved me……..
Lala was a company that wore alot of hats back in the day, but the main reason I used them was the way their MP3 buying platform worked. You could listen to any song in its entirety once….then you had to purchase it after that.
This was REVOLUTIONARY at the time. I found it around 2008, and in those days, if you wanted to hear a song you had to either: 1) Buy it on iTunes, 2) LIsten to the 30 sec sample on iTunes, or 3) Get a torrent of it from some shady place. Lala circumvented all of that by allowing me to explore stuff I may not listen to again. Now, from using the service, I know why it didnt last (aside from Apple buying it out just to shut it down, in traditional Silicon Valley fashion); I as a heavy user, never ever bought one song on the Lala platform. If I really liked something I heard, I either bought it on iTunes or bought the physical CD (which was reasonable in those days. Streaming wasnt quite a thing yet).
Using Lala, I did a ton of things. I listen to the entire Rolling Stone 500, Pitchfork’s List for the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, etc, and I went deep into artists I loved. One of them was Tom Waits.
When you do this kind of activity, you hear a ton of crap. But every once in a while, you find a hidden masterpiece.
Which brings us to The Heart of Saturday Night.
I think this thing is a complete masterpiece from beginning to end. In the Right Reverend’s humble opinion, I think what makes this special is the drunk crooner feel. This feels like his attempt at a concept album, whether that was intentional or not. A pre-Nighthawks journey through the drunk end of saturday night.
Instrumentally, it feels like much more of a cohesive music theme than Closing Time. Its not suprirsing that the next record, Small Change is as tight sounding as it is. He’s clearly going for a unified style on each record (which would eventually come clear on Rain Dogs).
I think more than the individual songs, I would take this album as a whole. Its really an experience. A chance to inhabit this world. If you are on a trip where you have to drive all night, this is a record to throw on for that.
And god damn he is such a good writer. Description is always the stuff that kills people. More words when few would do. Like this song above: You know the bartenders they all know my name / And they catch me when I’m pulling up lame / And I’m a pool-shooting-shimmy-shyster shaking my head / When I should be living clean instead
Thats all you ever need to know about this character. And you have a complete portrait of who he is.
Overall, I would describe this album as a moodpiece. Its about setting a tone. Like a David Lynch movie. Its not about plot or story. Its about how you get there. The straight line through the heart of saturday night. And thats what Tom Waits draws here.
So the next time you maybe went a little too far down the bottle, and need to take a breather. Listen to the Heart of Saturday Night. It will make you whole like getting a Cafe du Monde beignet at 5am and watching the street sweepers clean out Bourbon.