Blue Valentine - (1978)
Two welcome changes in style made Blue Valentine a fresh listening experience for Tom Waits fans. First, Waits alters the instrumentation, bringing in electric guitar and keyboards and largely dispensing with the strings for a more blues-oriented, hard-edged sound. Second, though his world view remains fixed on the lowlifes of the late night, he expands beyond the musings of the barstool philosopher who previously had acted as the first-person character of most of his songs. When Waits does use the first-person, it's to write a "Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis," not the figure most listeners had associated with the singer himself. The result is a broadening of subject matter, a narrative discipline that makes most of the tunes story songs, and a coherent framing for Waits' typically colorful and intriguing imagery. These are not radical reinventions, but Waits had followed such a rigidly stylized approach on his previous albums that for anyone who had followed him so far, the course correction was big news.