Sunday, October 15, 2017

CD Odyssey Disc 1061: Tom Waits

I’ve had a fun weekend, hanging out with friends, playing Ulti and watching the Miami Dolphins win in a thrilling second half comeback.

On Saturday, I went down to the local record store to get the new releases by St. Vincent and Courtney Barnett/Kurt Vile. Both records were amazing, and I’m looking forward to getting to know them better and one day – when the dice gods decide its time – review them.

Disc 1061 is…Alice
Artist: Tom Waits

Year of Release: 2002

What’s up with the Cover? An out-of-focus Tom Waits sits on a tire, looking devilish.

How I Came To Know It: This was just me digging through Tom Waits’ discography once I knew I loved his stuff.

How It Stacks Up:  I have 17 Tom Waits albums, and while I like “Alice” competition is fierce. I rank it at #10 overall.

Ratings: 4 stars

Tom Waits’ music has always been fanciful, but “Alice” is even more like a weird fairytale than usual. These songs have a playful quality that shows that many years into his career, Waits is still having fun exploring and developing his approach to music.

The opening and title track, “Alice” is a moody lounge piece, with a romantic sound matched to lyrics that are foreboding and creepy. This is Waits at his best, a master story teller rasping his way through the song, accompanied by sexy trumpet flourishes. The song is dripping with great language, but my favourite section is:

“But I must be insane
To go skating on your name
And by tracing it twice
I fell through the ice
Of Alice.”

Awesome imagery exploring the dangerous draw of the narrator’s obsession with the title character. The songs are co-written by long-time Waits collaborator (and wife) Kathleen Brennan, and together they paint amazing word pictures. Elsewhere on the album, songs speak of eyes that are “fish on a creamy shore”, swimming pools “filled with needles and with fools” and hearts that pump wine rather than blood. It is a sumptuous feast of language that keeps you interested even after many repeat listens.

Not content with moody and pensive songs like “Alice” Waits also goes full weirdo, with his signature bells and syncopated percussion. How he can turn all these bangs, clangs and whistles into compelling music is beyond me, but he does it. “Kommienezuspadt” isn’t even in English (I’m guessing German but I have no idea) but it has such an irresistible energy I usually try to sing along anyway.

Waits lets his imagination explore in a lot of different directions. On “Flower’s Grave” he observes that “no one puts flowers on a flower’s grave” and on “We’re All Mad Here” he observes that your hip bones are shaped like a heart, after all that flesh is removed and you’re reduced to a skeleton. Creepy but compelling stuff.

Poor Edward” tells the story of a man who has another face on the back of his head. We are never told why, it’s just another of Waits’ mad visions, and nestled among all the others on “Alice”, it somehow makes perfect sense.

Interspersed among all this delightful bizarreness, Waits mixes in tender ballads like “Lost in the Harbour” and “Fish & Bird” the latter of which tells the story of a bird that fell in love with a whale. They can’t be together, but yet their love endures. In the magical world of Tom Waits it all just makes sense.

Even though the record features plenty of troubling imagery there is a gentle romanticism that permeates “Alice” that draws you in and gives you comfort. This record is a favourite of Sheila’s and as a result gets a lot of airplay in the house, but despite the heavy rotation I’m always happy when it comes on.

Best tracks: Alice, Flower’s Grave, Kommienezuspadt, Lost in the Harbour, We’re All Mad Here, Fish & Bird, Barcarolle

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