Tom Waits, according to the esteemed American critic Robert Hilburn, is "clearly one of the most important figures of the modern pop era". Such sentiments are not mere hyperbole; in a career that now spans seven decades and over 20 albums, Tom Waits has long since emerged as an extraordinary innovative force, a singular voice whose music remains determinedly well beyond the trivial fads and fashions of popular culture.
In 1982, the same year as his Oscar-nominated soundtrack for Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘One From the Heart’, Tom Waits produced ‘Swordfishtrombones’ with Kathleen Brennan. It was the first time Waits had produced his own work.
With its visceral hybrid of styles and instrumentation ‘Swordfishtrombones’ marked a startling new creative point in Waits’ career. Waits experimented with the sound of his voice, tried unusual recording techniques and utilised found sounds and bizarre textures. His trademark storytelling backed by a piano combo had mutated into impressionistic and surreal aural landscapes.
This period of bold experimentation continued with ‘Rain Dogs’ (1985) and ‘Frank’s Wild Years’ (1987) which, alongside ‘Swordfishtrombones’, formed a landmark trilogy.
The trilogy was followed by ‘Big Time’ (1988), a film and soundtrack record of Waits’ acclaimed 1987 US tour; ‘Bone Machine’ (1992), which won an American Grammy Award for Best Alternative Album and ‘The Black Rider’ (1993), a recording of the songs and music Waits wrote for director Robert Wilson’s award-winning opera, adapted by Beat novelist William Burroughs from an old German folk tale.
In 1999 Tom Waits returned to the limelight with ‘Mule Variations’, an album, which synthesised Waits’ affinity for the American song tradition with his love of naturalistic sound worlds. Selling over a million copies around the world and winning a Grammy, it was also Waits' first-ever UK Top 10 hit.
As the follow-up Waits released two separate and distinct albums ‘Alice’ and ‘Blood Money’ on the same day in May 2002. The albums were as original as they were different from each other, with ‘Alice’ chronicling the songs Waits and Brennan had written for Robert Wilson’s 1992 theatrical production and ‘Blood Money’ containing the music commissioned for 2000’s ‘Woyzeck’.
His rich vein of creativity continued with ‘Real Gone’, Waits’ 2004 album which featured primal blues, rock-steady grooves and Latin rhythms, all mixed with what Waits called “cubist funk” and “vocal mouth percussion”, the latter unveiling his unique approach to human beatboxing.
In 2011 Waits' released 'Bad As Me', an album that boasts all the jazzy piano bar swagger of old which serves as a welcome reminder of his immeasurable talent.