Rhythm & Views


Kiss of Death

"Trucker music" is a genre that has long fallen out of favor, but Lemmy and the gang continue to suffer white-line fever with their consistent brand of straight-ahead, blues-based metal.

Like the Flying Burrito Brothers before them, Motörhead address the important issues: the mystery of women, the folly of war and the wandering attention of a certain deity. The latter comes across beautifully during one of the band's rare super-melodic ballads, "God Was Never on Your Side," on the new album, Kiss of Death: "Let the sword of reason shine," warbles the 61-year-old Lemmy, his shattered voice giving each word added poignancy and pain. "Let us be free of prayer and shrine / God's face is hidden, turned away / He never has a word to say." Motörhead has always boasted great lyrics, but Kiss of Death contains some of the band's finest moments.

And it's not just Lemmy's lyrical prowess that puts today's younger punk-metal acts to shame. Guitarist Phil Campbell heats up enough searing riffs to cook a brontosaurus. "Going Down" has all the wicked speed and nightmare aggression of a dirty knife fight, while "Living in the Past" edges Motörhead deeper into death-metal territory than ever before. This band, despite maintaining its simple power-trio status (with Mikkey Dee on drums), has never sounded bigger or brawnier than it does here.

Interestingly, each of the band members personally thanks Las Vegas' Rainbow Bar and Grill and the Palms hotel-casino. Who knows what kind of invigorating booze these hotspots are pouring Motörhead? Hopefully, the drinks will continue flowing.

Jarret Keene

Tom Waits

Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards

On a recent episode of The Daily Show, host Jon Stewart gushed to Tom Waits that he used to listen to his music and think, "Boy, I'd love to lie in the street nearly dead with that guy." To which Waits responded, "It's an act."

Which makes perfect sense. Even when Waits embodied the underbelly-crawling, downtrodden ragamuffin/barfly in the '70s and early '80s, combining hilariously sad-sack monologues with bittersweet songs about how he's better off without a wife, it was clear that he was playing a character. And when he drastically changed course (and not insignificantly, record labels), starting with the release of Swordfishtrombones, in 1983, his music took on a surreal, cinematic flair that boldly mutated from song to song, character to character. It's no wonder he's had side careers as a film actor and a composer for cinema and "street operas." Even in his increasingly rare latter-day live performances, the stage lighting and his body movements combine to achieve something far more theatrical than a run-of-the-mill concert--equal parts carnival spectacle and big-top revelry (check out the film Big Time for proof). Tom Waits may be an actor, but he's an damn believable and inventive one.

And so, on Orphans, a three-CD set comprising 56 songs (including new material; never-before-released songs; tunes that have appeared on compilations and soundtracks and as B-sides; covers; and even spoken-word readings and such--most, if not all, of which dates from the second half of his three-decade-plus career), we are treated to myriad personae and, therefore, a demonstration of Waits' full shamanistic range. The collection is divided, by disc, into three categories.

Disc one, "Brawlers," is devoted to (mostly) rockers that delve into rockabilly, twisted jazz, stomping blues and clanging found-percussion-driven oddity. Disc two, "Bawlers," is just what its title implies--slightly more conventional forays into ballads, lullabies and various other brands of heartstring-tuggers. The third disc, "Bastards," is Waits at his most experimental, encompassing everything from disturbing bedtime stories to an avant-garde take on "Heigh Ho"; from a reminiscence of beloved cars to interpretations of works by spiritual kin Jack Kerouac and Charles Bukowski.

It's especially remarkable that Waits can gather roughly five albums worth of "odds and ends" material, even as he consistently releases quality new albums on a biannual-or-better pace.

And throughout, as Waits writes in an artist statement, "At the center of this record is my voice," which he says is "really my instrument." It's a gravelly, wheezy thing--an acquired taste, no doubt--that is as mutable as his material needs it to be, just as any good actor can change his bearing and manner to inhabit different roles.

It's especially fitting that the collection ends with an unlisted track, "Missing My Son," a spoken-word piece in which a woman elaborately cons the unwitting narrator into paying for her groceries at the market. The song ends as the storyteller--let's call him Tom--rushes out to the parking lot just in time to grab the woman's leg as she's pulling away in her car, in order to seek recompense for the groceries. "I grabbed her leg and started pulling it," he says, and after a dramatic pause, continues: "Just the way I'm pulling yours." Then he erupts into a hearty laugh.

Stephen Seigel