Real Gone is a long album, over an hour. There are songs here, but many of their potential charms are buried under heavy percussion. Even talented stalwarts such as Les Claypool and Marc Ribot struggle to be heard above the din. From time to time, a “song” does emerge; “Sins Of My Father” is the first one in the program, three songs in, but at over ten minutes, it too is easy to shake interest. The cacophony of the track that follows (“Shake It”, if you’re interested) slaps all the dust particles back into the air, with a voice so distorted that it’s impossible to follow with the lyrics (which are not necessarily in order in the CD booklet). That happens a few times on this album.
Another case in point: “The Day After Tomorrow” is a lovely lament, most likely written from the point of view of a soldier stuck in the Gulf. It comes at the end, with a mood not unlike Bob Dylan’s “Restless Farewell”. Then there’s 30 seconds of silence, and another minute’s worth of beatboxing in “Chickaboom”.
There are other wonderful moments on Real Gone, should you have the gumption to wade through an awful lot to get there. “Don’t Go Into That Barn” has clear antecedents on the Bone Machine and Mule Variations albums, leaving the concept to sound a little worn out. “How’s It Gonna End” is quiet and spooky enough to keep you asking the question in the title; the same goes for “Dead And Lovely”. “Trampled Rose” would go on to be part of the wildly popular collaboration between Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, following this original closely. “Green Grass” has an exquisite guitar intro that sadly doesn’t last through the rest of the song.
Such is the way with Real Gone. It’s not the best place to start, and he’s got plenty of other, better albums. Some people think this is one of his best, so maybe they’re right and we’re wrong.
Tom Waits Real Gone (2004)—2½