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Outside the Box
The cover art of Tom Waits' Closing Time speaks volumes about the music you're about to hear, even before you put the album in your CD player. Waits, standing under a single lightbulb, rests only one knuckle on the piano as he looks down reflectively.
This minimal imagery is appropriate for a record that is equal parts emotionally potent and comfortably understated. Before Waits' music got, frankly, too weird in its quasi-beatnik bass and poetry warblings, he recorded this album first, foreshadowing one of the most promising and overlooked musicians of any generation.
The tracks on Closing Time consist of no more than a solo piano and Waits' melodic vocals except for the rare, one-piece percussion section that makes a few cameos. Still, so much musical energy and novelty emanates from this simple setup.
The songs are slow, but engaging. And while Waits' lyrics sometimes seem a bit indecipherable, it's still clear to the listener that he's not depressed, that this isn't an album about loss (except for the song "Lonely"). He's actually not singing about much and that's the beauty of it. The words flow smoothly alongside the piano, but Waits generally lets his instrument tell the story.
Waits' memories animate the music. He seems to be recounting the uncomplicated pleasures of life, the ones that are so understated that we rarely pay attention to them like the album itself.
The record grips you and while the initial reflex is sorrow, Waits' music is truly optimistic and addictive. Song names like "Ol' 55," "Midnight Lullaby" and "Old Shoes (& Picture Postcards)" illicit a sense of familiarity as the backdrops to life are recited by these engaging melodies. It's this familiarity, this sense of knowing the man and where he's coming from, that makes the tracks so inescapable once they've begun. It sort of feels like the official soundtrack to an interesting life lived.
If not one of the most beautiful, Closing Time is one of the most comfortable albums ever recorded. It's rare to find a record that can both entrance you in its power or relax you with its mellow progression, depending on how you choose to listen to it.
It's a testament to Waits' musical competence that each song, revelling in its simplicity, can reach such climatic heights so effortlessly. In fact, the album's centrepiece, "Martha," is both its slowest and most powerful song. However, while each track stands out on its own and possesses some distinct quality from the others, Closing Time requires a commitment.
Jumping back and forth between songs is fine, but you will miss out on the intentional ordering of a musical masterpiece. To appreciate him best, just let Waits play.
Waits is able to evoke a unique emotional response from this selection. Closing Time is the perfect addition to any music collection. It is a package that can be enjoyed in its entirety, whether James Taylor is maybe a bit too whiny for your tastes or you just need some background music at night to set a subtle tone among friends.
It's that rare album that you can absorb and ignore at the same time. Unintrusive, but impacting, Closing Time is a buried treasure waiting to be discovered.