Real Gone

Tom Waits bellows through Real Gone like he's been knocking back pure lava, rasping out sinister names and details: Horse Face Ethel, Knocky Parker, "a tattoo gun made out of a cassette motor and a guitar string." Waits has all but purged his early records' boozy, sentimental side — his one attempt at heartstring-tugging here, the ambivalent soldier's lament "Day After Tomorrow," is the album's slackest moment. These days, he prefers the ravaged lift-and-slam of prison work gangs, such as the murderer's catechism of "Don't Go Into That Barn": "Did you cover your tracks?/Yes, sir!/Did you bring your knife?/Yes, sir!" Waits retains his knack for recruiting world-class musicians — notably spider-clawed guitarist Marc Ribot and Primus' Les Claypool and Brain Mantia — who can play like they're falling down the stairs of hell. The percussion behind a lot of these songs is Waits' own coughs, barks and gurgles, a sort of brain-eating zombie-alien-beatbox effect that underscores the lyrics' savage visions. "Make It Rain" is a plea for retribution, not grace, but the God of the ten-minute "Sins of My Father" sneers, "Don't give me your tinhorn prayers." The core of Real Gone, actually, is gospel music flipped inside out — an unholy voice, singing about the conspicuous absence of divine mercy.