Tom Waits, Big Time
Stripping down songs without sacrificing their lumbering clatter
The soundtrack to Waits’s 1988 concert film is as notable for what’s not included as what is, namely all but a token representation of his pre-Swordfishtrombones catalogue. Drawing mainly from that album, as well as the ensuing Rain Dogs and Franks Wild Years, Big Time strips down the songs without sacrificing any of their lumbering clatter. (There’s one ringer, the previously unreleased studio track “Falling Down.”) If anything, the relative spareness of a song like “16 Shells From a Thirty-Ought-Six” only makes it creepier, as if some misbegotten laboratory experiment has been accidentally released into the wild. Without the ambient atmosphere of Nighthawks at the Diner, the album doesn’t stand on its own, and the live versions are too different from the preceding albums for it to serve as a compact introduction. Like most live albums, it’s a worthy footnote, intriguing on its own terms but not a replacement for the source materials.