For someone who prefers Waits' singing voice on those big tuneful ballads, this album is a bit of a shock. In The Neighbourhood, although a spectacular example of aforementioned style, is the only representative on Swordfishtrombones. With its beautiful melody line and gripping chorus, it ranks with other Wait greats like Old 55, Saving All My Love For You and I Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You.
The rest of the album is an exploration of his talking vocal style, with jazzy or bluesy arrangements providing the backdrop to his Beat poetry. Of the three instrumentals, I prefer Just Another Sucker On The Vine with its lovely interplay between harmonium and trumpet. The gentle Soldier's Things and Town With No Cheer are also lovely ballads, but with a lounge jazz feel.
Many of the songs have a theme of travelling and being out of place and out of time. Swordfishtrombones is certainly a very accomplished album on which Waits honed many of his inimitable styles, but besides Neighborhood I do not find many of the songs personally appealing, thence the three stars. For those of his fans that like his rasping voice and spoken style, this is a five star album.