Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Tom Waits: Swordfishtrombones [Island, 1983]
Though it never seemed likely that Waits had the intellect or self-discipline his talent deserved, after a full decade of half-cocked color he's put it together. He'll never sing pretty, but finally that's an unmitigated advantage. Taking a cue from his country cousin Captain Beefheart, he's making the music as singular as the stories, from the amplified Delta blues of "Gin Soaked Boy" to Victor Feldman's strange percussion devices (try the brake drum on "16 Shells From a 30-6"). And at the same time he's finding the tawdry naturalistic details he craves in less overtly bizarre locales--Australia, suburbia, his own head. A-