Closing Time

Tom Waits

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Closing Time Review

by William Ruhlmann

Tom Waits' debut album is a minor-key masterpiece filled with songs of late-night loneliness. Within his chosen narrow range of the cocktail bar pianistics and muttered vocals, Waits and producer Jerry Yester manage to deliver a surprisingly broad collection of styles, from the jazzy "Virginia Avenue" to the uptempo off-kilter funkiness of "Ice Cream Man." The acoustic guitar folkiness of the tender "I Hope That I Don't Fall in Love with You" is an upside-down take on the Laurel Canyon sound, while the saloon song "Midnight Lullaby" would have been a perfect addition to the repertoires of Frank Sinatra and/or Tony Bennett. Waits' entire musical approach is highly stylized and, in its lesser moments, somewhat derivative of some of his own heroes: "Lonely" borrows from Randy Newman's "I Think It's Going to Rain Today." His lovelorn lyrics can be sentimental without penetrating too deeply, but they still get the job done since these are song portraits in miniature. The frameworks of most of the songs come from the songwriter's literary obsessions with Charles Bukowski and Jack Kerouac. Waits also has a gift for gentle, rolling pop melodies; his original scenarios are strikingly visual on the best songs, such as "Martha" -- which Yester discreetly augments with strings -- and the now iconic "Ol' 55." Waits' original version is far superior in conveying the early-morning emotions after leaving a lover's room to the Eagles' hooky hit cover -- which ultimately guaranteed Waits an income for life. Closing Time quietly announces the arrival of a talented songwriter whose self-consciousness, wry barroom humor, and solitary melancholy made him a standout from virtually all of his peers, and difficult to pigeonhole.

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