For a man who went his own pointed way in the ‘70s, it was perhaps fitting that the first Tom Waits album of the ‘80s should be so schizophrenic. Heartattack And Vine offers a hodgepodge of styles, mostly alternating between slow R&B and slow weepies. Somehow, the mix works.
The title track plods along with a limp, describing yet more of the seedy underbelly of L.A. (Great couplet: “You know there ain’t no devil/That’s just God when He’s drunk.”) The album’s barely gotten warmed up before an instrumental, the just as slow “In Shades”, occupies four minutes of time. Then it’s an odd shift to “Saving All My Love For You”, a lovely outtake from two albums back, layered in strings fit for a pre-dawn reverie. “Downtown” isn’t much to get excited about unless you like Hammond organ runs, but he pens another classic in “Jersey Girl”, the one song Bruce Springsteen wishes he’d written, and indeed, since made his own.
A better use of the familiar recipe propels “’Til The Money Runs Out”, with Tom’s spitting wheeze riding the voodoo beat. Then it’s back to the sap with “On The Nickel”, a sadly beautiful tribute to the “little boys” who live on skid row, with key changes after every other verse and a near lullaby ending. The mood is jostled by “Mr. Siegal”, which continues the New Orleans jazz vibe from Blue Valentine and may or may not refer to the Vegas gangster. There are a few good lines in there, but it goes on too long. The album ends with another lullaby in “Ruby’s Arms”, another tearjerker sung at dawn, this time to a sleeping woman he’s about to leave for good.
It’s a fitting way to go out, for with Heartattack And Vine, Tom Waits basically said goodbye to his old persona, his producer and his label. The journey he was about to take would be even stranger than where he’d already been, but he had to leave the Tropicana Hotel sometime.
Tom Waits Heartattack And Vine (1980)—3