This review by Robert Loerzel originally appeared in Playlist magazine’s winter 2005 issue.
To get into the mood for this music, picture how it got started. The famously—need we say it?—gravel-voiced Tom Waits spends hours in his bathroom, making “mouth rhythms,” sounds like “Boom-chikka-ah!” Then his band records the resulting songs, sometimes directly on top of those toilet tapes. Listeners who don’t have a great love for noise may feel that some tracks on Real Gone should have been left in the can. With its emphasis on groove and grunt, this is not Waits at his most accessible. But don’t give up after the calamitous clatter of the opening taunt, “Top of the Hill”—catchier riffs lie ahead, and several songs give Waits more breathing space. “Green Grass,” a spooky plea to a former lover from a man who may be dead, is all the more haunting because it’s so quiet. Despite Waits’s attempt at bold experimentation, most of this will sound familiar to his fans. The piano may be gone, but the circus freaks are present and accounted for. As Waits says, “You know the story/Here it comes again.”