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Grim Human Conditions

Tom Waits
Tom Waits - Alice
(Anti- Records)
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Tom Waits
Tom Waits - Blood Money
(Anti- Records)
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)

By Tony Bonyata

For a guy who used to take his sweet time between records Tom Waits sure has been prolific in his recent output. Three years after his Grammy winning release Mule Variations Waits has simultaneously released two new individual albums, entitled Alice and Blood Money.
The songs from both albums were originally created as music for a Robert Wilson avant garde opera held in Hamburg back in 1992, but were never recorded until now. Both were also written and produced by Waits along with his wife and longtime collaborator, Kathleen Brennan.
The theme of Alice was loosely based on the obsessions that Lewis Carroll had for a young Alice Liddell, the inspiration for his books Alice in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass. And, not unlike Carroll's own hallucinatory work, Waits' album is filled with odd characters, such as the bodiless piano player in the twisted jazz of "Table Top Joe," as well as his own gravelly vocal delivery, dusty production and demented arrangements. While much of Waits' '70s material featured the use of string sections, the spartan, often psychotic use of them here, along with vibraphones, French horns, pump organ and bass saxophones, makes for a deep, dark hole that is near impossible to crawl out of.
There are numbers on Alice that have utilized a sort of decadent German Expressionist jazz balladry that are both ragged and demented, such as the goose-stepping ditty "Kommienezupadt" and the lilting "Lost in the Harbour," while a sense of an innocent child yearning for adulthood, and vice versa, peeks through the bittersweet lullabies "Flower's Grave," "No One Knows I'm Gone" and "Fish & Bird."
While still retaining an air of the Weimar Republic on Blood Money, the album is decidedly darker and more desperate than it's sister. With chilling melodies ("Coney Island Baby"), a grim, yet strangely comical, sense of hopelessness ("God's Away On Business" and "Starving In The Belly Of A Whale") and two hypnotizing instrumentals that conjure up fear and dread ("Calliope") and impending danger through the use of jabbing horns ("Knife Chase") the hallucinogenic sense of youth and innocence of Alice, is crushed like cockroach under a boot.
Black and intriguing, beguiling and playful, this burning-trash-can laureate has done it once again with two intoxicating albums that are as different from one another as they are uniquely Tom Waits.

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