The 70s were an interesting time for the world. Wars were being fought in Asia, while in America, we were going through a pretty turbulent time politically. A lot of that struggle was told through the art for the generations to come. Documents and lessons can say one thing about the major events, but its the songs and art that come from this time that really show the character and personality of the people.
One of the more influential figures of the 70s was rock legend Tom Waits. Already riding off of four fairly successful records, he deemed it time to change. His fifth album, 1978's Blue Valentine is a big stylistic change for him, but also a sign of the times. Tom Waits told the tale of the ordinary man in Blue Valentine through bluesy tones and a sobering look into his songs.
Blue Valentine is considered a turning point for Waits' music. It's starkly different from his previous records with its more stripped down and raw approach. The song that opens the record is 'Somewhere,' from the famous film West Side Story, brings the record in with beautiful symphonies backing Waits' deep and raspy voice in a brilliant contrast. The roughness of his vocals and the crystalline nature of the strings really creates a special magic.
A lot of themes on this record are very easily connectable. The album is very barebones and not at all overbearing, plenty of jazz and blues numbers providing the album with some tasty textures. 'Red Shoes By The Drug Store' offers up a less orchestrated instrumental as Waits sings aggressively about a night out at the bar atop a crawling bassline and keyboards. The drums slowly build up as the song progresses, Waits' very animated and expressive vocals sounding like they're telling a story. 'Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minnesota' follows with a much more sweet instrumental featuring keyboard and piano dancing together fantastically. Waits sings this song in such a way that it feels like he's talking of a time he regrets all the while singing the words of a letter written to him.
The only real complaint you can have about this record is that it doesn't have many definitive moments to it. It's a change for Waits for sure, but by itself it really isn't too impressive. There are great jazzy numbers including '$29.00,' and 'Romeo Is Bleeding' really lets the blues out, but overall this album feels more like a lay-back and relax sort of listen rather than one to think or grow with. The lyrics do have this very expressive vibe to them that keep the tracks unique, but it's not enough to really accentuate everything in the end.
Tom Waits is a landmark in American music and the very genre of rock n' roll. His influence on countless artists is undeniable, and his music really shows his strength. He told the tale of the ordinary man in Blue Valentine with jazzy and bluesy rawness, and even though it's not his best album, it's still a unique and interesting one, nonetheless. It's a turbulent time put into the perspective of an ordinary man just like you. That's hard to put to words, let alone music.
Favorite Tracks: Somewhere, Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minnesota
Least Favorite Track: Wrong Side Of The Road
Rating: 70 / 100
Buy or listen to Blue Valentine here: