Why listen? For non-lyrical songwriting; a strikingly gritty presentation; almost five-minutes worth of dark inspiration.
Even the most superficial survey of the Billboard Top 40 reveals that today's music prides itself on accessibility. Transparent lyrics and catchy melodies sung by pretty people rule the day. Given that standard, Tom Waits' "Black Wings" would never get a hearing on a Clear Channel station. Muted upright bass and hushed banjo riffs bracket Waits' sepulchral growling as he unfolds a mythic narrative about a wanderer who might not be entirely human. Biblical allusions pepper the tale, but this stranger has more in common with Christopher Walken's creepy Gabriel in The Prophecy than Christ. "Some say he once killed a man with a guitar string. / He's been seen at the table with kings. / Well, he once saved a baby from drowning. / There are those that say beneath his coat there are wings." Popular listening? Certainly not. But it fires the imagination better than anything sung by those picture-perfect crooners.
(Hat Tip: Tor.com)