Rated | Alphabetical
| Highest Rated 2006
Waits & Measures
Tom Waits: Alice
Tom Waits: Blood Money
Posted: May 17, 2002
Alice and Blood Money, Tom Waits' two new albums (both
co-written with wife Kathleen Brennan), were born in the theater. Alice's
origins go back to 1992, when avant-garde director Robert Wilson
commissioned Waits to compose songs for his production of Alice in
Wonderland, which debuted in Hamburg, Germany, later that year.
Blood Money stems from Wilson's Woyzeck (which premiered in
Denmark in late 2000), and was based on an unfinished nineteenth century
play by Georg Büchner.
Waits formally recorded the music for Alice and Blood Money
last year, using a pool of the same musicians for both sessions. While
there are superficial similarities between the two, the tempo and mood
could hardly be more dissimilar. Alice is a foggy, mournfully
wistful affair, with subtle arrangements and the (mostly) ruminative vocal
stylings of Waits. Blood Money, on the other hand, is a cathartic
rant against the worst in mankind's nature, a purgation of glowering
cynicism, tempered slightly by the stray ballad.
Ostensibly, Alice examines Charles Dodgson's (Lewis Carroll)
relationship/fascination with the real Alice Liddell, later immortalized
in his famous children's stories, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
and Through the Looking Glass. Yet Waits clearly envisioned his
wife, Kathleen, in the lead role, and it's this muse that propels the
loose song cycle running the length of the album. From the opening title
track concerning the memory of a departed love, with its fixation on death
and distance, to the sound of whistles and departing trains on "Everything
You Can Think," Alice obsessively ponders being separated from the
one you love. In this case, it's possible to imagine Waits' drawing on his
own isolation from Kathleen while working on the music in Hamburg back in
The notion of dying alone and unloved appears in "No One Knows I'm
Gone," later reinforced by the poignant, succinct "I'm Still Here."
Shrieks born of lonely frustration underline the alarming "Kommienezuepadt,"
while temptations of the flesh color "Reeperbahn," a carnival view of
Hamburg's red light district.
The musically bland "Lost In The Harbor" and "We're All Mad Here"
(wherein Waits' veers dangerously close to lyrical self-parody) knock
Alice down a few notches. But these are minor abuses when stacked
against the larger statement of undying love, as in the wonderful
piano-led ballad "Barcarolle," in which Waits sings "the branches/Spell
Alice/And I belong only to you." Alice is one of Waits' most mature
and intimate creations, a work unlike anything else in his remarkably
Blood Money, using the basics of Büchner's 1837 tale of a former
Prussian soldier who, driven mad by bizarre medical experiments, murders
his unfaithful wife, establishes its grim tone from the outset with the
appropriately titled "Misery Is The River of the World." Utilizing a
percussive technique first heard on 1992's Bone Machine, which
conjures the image of a marching skeletal army, Waits rails against man's
futile attempt to control the environment ("You can drive out nature with
a pitch fork/But it always comes roaring back again"). "Everything Goes to
Hell" features Colin Stetson's accomplished baritone sax to effectively
convey a dark summation of humanity's bleak fate, while "God's Away On
Business," features ex-Policeman Stewart Copeland pounding away on log
drums as Waits bellows "the ship is sinking" with repetitive, hammering
force. "Coney Island Baby" offers a brief ray of hope via love ("All the
stars make their wishes on her eyes"), while "All The World Is Green"
posits death as the ultimate serenity. The brilliantly forceful "Starving
In The Belly Of A Whale" sums up the album's raging menace with the bitter
line: "Man's a fiddle that life plays on."
Blood Money's arrangements, while more arresting than those on
Alice, seem a continuation rather than expansion of the tonal
canvas with which Waits has experimented since 1983's
Swordfishtrombones. Alice offers a more seamless blend of
content and sound, whereas Blood Money -- although solidly
played -- lurches about with wild, unfocused abandon. And while Blood
Money initially provides the more interesting listen, it ultimately
lacks the staying power of Alice's more delicately shaded
profundities regarding love and loss. For that reason, Alice gets
the nod if your budget allows for only one of the two. Both, however, are
worthwhile additions to any collection.
Worth the Waits
Those interested in delving deeper into the musical world
of Tom Waits, but are intimidated by the sheer abundance of material
available, should look to Rhino’s solid overview of Waits’ early Asylum
years, Used Songs (1973-1980). His more fertile period begins with
the aforementioned Swordfishtrombones, which formed a loose trilogy
with 1985’s Rain Dogs and 1987’s Franks Wild Years. ’90s
highlights include Bone Machine (1992) and 1999’s Mule
design copyright © 2001-2011 Shaking Through.net. All original artwork,
photography and text used on this site is the sole copyright of the respective creator(s)/author(s). Reprinting, reposting, or citing any of the original
content appearing on this site without the written consent of Shaking
Through.net is strictly forbidden.