Waits’ new album loses the piano but doesn’t lose touch

“Real Gone” finds Tom Waits at an interesting point in his career. He has released 25 albums since the early 70s and has enjoyed a loyal cult following. More recently, Waits was the voice of the Captain Hook look-alike who played the piano at the Poison Apple Bar in “Shrek 2.”

The role of Captain Hook is suiting for Waits. His gravely howl and whiskey soaked vocals scrape every inch of “Real Gone.” The only thing missing on Waits’ latest album is the piano, which traditionally graces all of his work. In place of the piano, Waits employs turntables, guitars and a heavy percussion section to help him find a musical groove unheard in his previous releases. The layers of guitar riffs laced with turntable scratches and backed by tribal drumbeats lead Waits to explore musical landscapes untouched by most bands today.

While Waits’ musical style has changed dramatically throughout his career, his lyrics have remained razor sharp. On “Real Gone,” the listener is led through musical narratives that rival the written works of Philip K. Dick, J.D. Salinger and Charles Bukowski. Love, loss and the horror of human nature are recurring themes that ground “Real Gone” in a world only populated by the lowest forms of human life. The world Waits creates in “Real Gone” might not be a great place to live, but he definitely makes it worth the visit.