While there were hints of an experimental Tom Waits on "Blue Valentine," this was the first album where I found myself thinking that I was listening to a totally reinvented Tom Waits.
Nearly twenty years later, I still feel "hot & cold" when I listen to this release. I think the lyrical Waits reaches incredible new heights with tunes like "Frank's Wild Years" and "In the Neighborhood." Musically, the album lost me at times. There are brief pieces like "Johnsburg, Illinois," a haunting romantic bit with a ghostly chill to it, where Waits' new musical paint job works well. But much of the album drags with what sounds to me like too much experiment, too little music.
If you're one of those Tom Waits fans who likes both his pre and post 1970s sound, and want to grab one CD that captures both sides of Tom Waits, I would pass on Sworfishtrombones. His follow up, "Rain Dogs," captures the essence of all Tom Waits; eery artsy tunes with enough melody to still be music.
If it's vintage Tom Waits lyrics you're fishing for, Swordfishtrombones is well worth a listen. The music, to my ears, tends to drag. While I'm not close-minded to offbeat and experimental art, I'm not a passionate fan. Take this into account: if you are a bit more open-minded than I am, this CD might be just the pick for you!