Tom Waits evolved from the engaging but seemingly predictable barroom growler of 1973's Closing Time to the artistic bomb thrower of 1983's Swordfishtrombones in one astonishing decade -- the rarest sort of creative transformation. Since then, he's grappled with the implications of his innovations, and while the discs he's made of late have never been less than interesting, their preoccupation with outré arrangements and production sometimes gets in the way of his compositions.
On Real Gone, Waits, who co-produced the disc with his wife, Kathleen Brennan, uses an extremely limited sonic palette, blending gutbucket guitar (most of it played by Marc Ribot), bass (Les Claypool pitches in), various percussive devices (Brain often mans the skins), turntable noises (son Casey Waits contributes here) and his own often-distorted vocals. The music that emerges is highly rhythmic, but when Waits puts rawness above all else, as he does on "Shake It" and "Top of the Hill," the results are more pose than song. Far better are "Baby Gonna Leave Me," which finds a great groove inside the noise, and "Sins of My Father," a track that haunts because of its subtlety, not in spite of it. That's what getting Gone is all about.