17 Songs, 56 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

As Tom Waits albums go, Franks Wild Years is a weird one — and this is Tom Waits we’re talking about. Subtitled “un operachi romantico in two acts", “Franks Wild Years,”  the musical play written with his wife Kathleen Brennan, only survives as a cast of 15 tunes (two repeated in differing arrangements) that advance no plot beyond Waits’ expected dispersion of unlucky hustlers and lost-in-time dreamers who seem to have emerged from a circus or carnival with nothing left but their nerve. While Waits’ career took a left turn with 1983’s Swordfishtrombones and its ragged junkyard clang, with 1987’s Franks Wild Years Waits immersed himself in decadent cabaret where pump organs, marimbas and freaky vocal effects make him sound even more demented than usual. The songs impart terrible loneliness (“Train Song,” “Innocent When You Dream”), yet Waits often seems to be having a blast as he bellows with all his heart. Musically, “Hang On St. Christopher” sounds like a train’s steam engine pumping down the tracks, while the solemn, majestic guitar lines of ‘Yesterday is Here” add an aura of beautiful doom. The Sinatra-on-a-bender lounge act of “Straight to the Top” and “I’ll Take New York” sends things off a surrealist cliff. You just need to hang on.

EDITORS’ NOTES

As Tom Waits albums go, Franks Wild Years is a weird one — and this is Tom Waits we’re talking about. Subtitled “un operachi romantico in two acts", “Franks Wild Years,”  the musical play written with his wife Kathleen Brennan, only survives as a cast of 15 tunes (two repeated in differing arrangements) that advance no plot beyond Waits’ expected dispersion of unlucky hustlers and lost-in-time dreamers who seem to have emerged from a circus or carnival with nothing left but their nerve. While Waits’ career took a left turn with 1983’s Swordfishtrombones and its ragged junkyard clang, with 1987’s Franks Wild Years Waits immersed himself in decadent cabaret where pump organs, marimbas and freaky vocal effects make him sound even more demented than usual. The songs impart terrible loneliness (“Train Song,” “Innocent When You Dream”), yet Waits often seems to be having a blast as he bellows with all his heart. Musically, “Hang On St. Christopher” sounds like a train’s steam engine pumping down the tracks, while the solemn, majestic guitar lines of ‘Yesterday is Here” add an aura of beautiful doom. The Sinatra-on-a-bender lounge act of “Straight to the Top” and “I’ll Take New York” sends things off a surrealist cliff. You just need to hang on.

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Ratings and Reviews

4.5 out of 5
55 Ratings
55 Ratings
AndersDahl ,

Amazing

"Frank's Wild Years" was my first Tom Waits album and I took a chance. I didn't know any of his songs back then, but I was ready for something different and this album was it.
For TW beginners, I recommend "Yesterday is Here", the first song that showed me he is one of the greatest living song writers.

Slowlane ,

Essential Theatrical Capstone Starts With a Bang

Okay so not nearly enough reviews of this classic Tom Waits album, which I first heard in the mid 90s and was initially put off by how much rougher it was than Swordfishtrombones and Rain Dogs. It grows on you though and ultimately reveals itself as the capstone of a trilogy started with those two earlier albums. Probably Tom's most eclectic album with the Vegas/Sinatra and the Rhumba stuff cross-pollinating with spaghetti western-music, barroom and a parody of "New York, New York"-style musical theatre. These tunes all come from what was originally an off-broadway musical that Tom and his wife/collaborator Kathleen Brennan did in Chicago with Gary Sinise (Lieutenant Dan!) the same year he starred in Jim Jarmusch's Down By Law. You really sense that the music has suddenly become more theatrical. My suggestion is get Swordfishtrombones first, then Rain Dogs, then this one and slowly wrap your neurons around each of them like you're reading a trilogy which you can loosely think of as the voyage of the misguided lowlife, Tom's alter ego Frank.

johnsurvived ,

Incredible stuff, indeed.

This song cycle covers surreal dreamscapes of booze and occasional violence. Some of these tunes are so haunting (most especially "Cold Cold Ground") as to raise the possibility of song-induced nightmares. I may never tire of listening to this set to hear something new in the songs that hadn't yet occurred to me, and I know as well that this disc would be one of my "Desert Island 10."

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