4.8 10
by Tom Waits

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Death metallers and gangsta rappers might claim to have the right stuff to chill a listener, but when he's at the top of his game, nobody can bring the shivers like Tom Waits -- and on this 15-song collection, he's at the top of his game. The songs on Alice were written by Waits and longtime collaborator Kathleen Brennan for an avant-garde opera based loosely


Death metallers and gangsta rappers might claim to have the right stuff to chill a listener, but when he's at the top of his game, nobody can bring the shivers like Tom Waits -- and on this 15-song collection, he's at the top of his game. The songs on Alice were written by Waits and longtime collaborator Kathleen Brennan for an avant-garde opera based loosely on Lewis Carroll's obsession with Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland, and staged in 1992 in Hamburg, Germany. The album wasn't recorded until 2001, but given when the songs were written, it's not surprising that many of them carry the eerie, clangorous tenor that pervaded Waits's recordings of the era, namely '92's Bone Machine. As ever, his character studies -- of folks who have been around the block so many times, they can't help but slump over in a dingy corner -- are absolutely masterful, particularly "Poor Edward" and the title track. Waits's craggy wheeze of a voice carries palpable pain on neo-Gallic pieces like "No One Knows I'm Gone" and the mournful "Watch Her Disappear," which, with its spare, harmonium-driven melody line, paints a stark picture of life on the wrong side of society's safety net. There's an undeniable beauty to the music on Alice -- dominated by cellos and subtly shaded horns, the disc could almost pass for a '30s period piece. But with Waits shaping the content, it's impossible to pin Alice down -- catch her outline out of the corner of your eye.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Thom Jurek
It's been long time since Tom Waits recorded an album as saturated with tenderness as this one. The carny-barker noise merchant who has immersed himself in brokenness and reportage from life's seamy, even hideous underbelly for decades has created, along with songwriting and life partner Kathleen Brennan, a love song cycle so moving and poetic that it's almost unbearable to take in one sitting. Alice is alleged to be the "great lost Waits masterpiece." Waits and Brennan collaborated with Robert Wilson on a stage production loosely based on Alice Liddell, the young girl who was the obsession and muse of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland books. The show ran in Europe for a time and the production's 15 songs were left unrecorded until now. Alice forgoes the usual nightmare lyric sequences, warped, circus-like melodies, and sonic darknesses that have been part and parcel of Waits' work since Swordfishtrombones. Instead, this song cycle is, for the most part, steeped in jazz ballads, old waltzes, European folk songs, theatrical love paeans, and music not so easily identified. The instrumentation is different, with the utilization of a small chamber orchestra (the violins are Stroh violins, instruments outfitted with a metal horn on the end for amplification purposes), marimbas, piano, organ, woodwinds, and reeds, and the complete absence of guitars. The set opens with the title track, a smoky jazz ballad that may echo Waits' work from the 1970s, but is actually miles beyond it in scope. Here there is no purposely postured nuance or affectation of persona. The lyric is plaintive and full of pathos; it's almost a suicide note set to the most romantic melodic invention lounge jazz is capable of. As Waits sings, "The only strings that hold me here/Are tangled up around the pier/And so a secret kiss/Brings madness with the bliss/And I will think of this/When I'm dead and in my grave/Set me adrift/I'm lost over there/But I must be insane/To go on skating on your name/And by tracing it twice I fell through the ice/Of Alice/There's only Alice, the world turns inside out and the listener can no longer decide if this is a man or a ghost reporting from beneath the pond's surface. If love brings this, if obsession has such a cost, how can they be steeped in tenderness this transparent and plain? Elsewhere, Waits manages to delve into the voice of the turned-out lover, the rejected stone, the lost madman, as he does on "We're All Mad Here" and "Everything You Can Think." But even here there is a reflective dimension, nearly childlike in their simple embrace of loss, dispossession, and descent into the maelstrom of the human soul. Ghosts whisper in the mix, spirits float through the air, and demons passionately possess the protagonists. In the simpler, melting melodies of "Lost in the Harbour," "No One Knows I'm Gone," and the haunting tango at the heart of "Watch Her Disappear," obsession with the unmentionable (let alone the unattainable) is offered as an empathy for powerlessness, buoyed up by an instrumental crutch, arranged to give a voice to those who dare not speak publicly. The melodies on Alice are easily the most direct Waits has written since Blue Valentine, but are more elegant than even those found on Foreign Affairs or Black Rider. Alice is no step back, but a further step toward oblivion -- the place where the sound of desolation, the melody of loneliness, and the confused darkness at the root of the human heart come together and speak as one in a nursery rhyme for adults.
Vaporous, layered, beautifully evocative, with moments of discordant madness.

Product Details

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Album Credits

Performance Credits

Tom Waits   Primary Artist,Piano,Violin,Glockenspiel,Vocals,Mellotron,chamberlain,Pump Organ,Foot Stomping
Stewart Copeland   Trap Kit
Matthew Brubeck   Bass,Cello
Larry Taylor   Bass,Electric Guitar
Myles Boisen   Banjo
Kathleen Brennan   Acoustic Guitar,Percussion
Bent Clausen   Piano,Swiss Hand Bells
Joe Gore   Electric Guitar
Nick Phelps   Trumpet,French Horn
Gino Robair   Percussion,Drums
Carla Kihlstedt   Violin
Tim Allen   Scraper
Andrew Borger   Percussion,Drums,Frame Drum
Colin Stetson   Bass Clarinet,Saxophone,Baritone Saxophone
Eric Perney   Bass
Ara Anderson   Muted Trumpet

Technical Credits

Tom Waits   Producer
Kathleen Brennan   Producer
Oz Fritz   Engineer
Gerd Bessler   Engineer
Matt Mahurin   Concept
Heather Fremling   Contributor
Jeff Abarta   Art Direction
Jacquire King   Engineer
Jeff Sloan   Engineer
Richard Fisher   Studio Support

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Alice 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Alice subject matter is dreams, nightmares, and stated disillusionment, also visited in Frank's Wild Years. In Alice, a certain resignation is present in Tom's vocal delivery to a particular predicament in life, regardless of how hard the music's/story's characters try to change. At times, Tom struggles with hitting lower and higher notes, his voice in this range turns whispery and thin. The music continues to use Tom¿s choice of circus instruments that include calliope, pump organ, tubas, marimbas, Stroh violin (violin with horn attachment), train whistles, and others. Present also are Tom¿s recurring among his recent body of works references to bones, death, trains and emotional attachment to them in his lyrics, and the use of distortion and distress in the recording techniques. I'll state, unequivocally, that I find Alice to be one of Tom's best recordings to date. Much of Alice is in slow tempi that I find languid, introspective, deeply felt, lyrics clever and poignant, melodies absolutely compelling, and musical treatments deeply moving. The two up-tempo songs are Komienezuspadt, an oom pah groove with Tom singing in German mixing jazz and German parlor song and Table Top Joe who is a lounge singer with only two hands and no body who claims he makes it big sung in Tom's jivey New Orleans style voice complete with scatting at the end. Some of my picks for standouts are: Poor Edward: Stroh violin introduces the song. Edward may be the saddest character of any I'm familiar with. He's permanently attached and has to live with, die from, and ultimately be with a hated entity through eternity. Star Trek had a character that had to fight against his likeness through eternity to keep two universes from being destroyed. Edward's fate, however, is worse as the Star Trek character had a cause. For Edward, only predicament. Stroh violin very prominent, tempo slow and rather plodding, Tom struggles with low notes in the beginning of the song. After telling the sad fate of Edward the Stroh violin recalls Edward's melody like a haunting aftermath. Lost in the Harbour: Truly. Slow tempo-- the instruments lines and harmonies provide distortion to the melody throughout. Tom's voice is rather lost in the instrumentation, the melody haunting. Pump organ, Stroh violin prominent and no percussion. Two interludes of some of Tom's most moving, spooky lost music, seem to represent lost souls in the harbour; dream within the dream interludes. Tom describes people crying inside, hiding their tears, afraid of themselves, and that he'll join them, he'll be ready soon. Barcarole: waltz/lullaby, slow tempo-- Tom's voice croons, confessing his feelings for Alice. After the verse a rather eerie atmosphere shift occurs in the form of an interlude and a saxophone plays a jazz solo plays while the piano continues to play the song. The song goes into another harmonic place when Tom says '' and the branches spell Alice and I belong to you'' before coming back home.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have had a copy of the original recordings for this record for over a year now, and what is delivered in the final, finished 'all-access' release shows a very different portrait of the original concept (of course, from back in '92) than the demo-quality version that I have in my hands. Without question, the great ones are there, ''Alice'', ''Table-Top Joe'', ''Reeperbahn'', etc...but as it appears what is sadly missing from this collection are the interstitial instrumentals that really help to footnote the insanity of this concept...numerous, although sometimes truncated creepily moody pieces that give the best counterpoints to the main lyrical tracks. Nonetheless, Tom Waits is undeniably a thoughtful and innovative musical genious who has never paused for trend nor conventional thinking in record-making. This is only but one reason one should run out and get their hands on a copy of this disc. If you hate it, you may need to either grow older and wiser with more worldly experience before attempting to reapproach his work again; but if you find yourself fascinated, you are simply just beginning to leave the harbour for a long and consuming (and certainly eclectic) voyage into the distant and long-running waters of the musical canon of Tom Waits...
Mistress_Nyte More than 1 year ago
Tom Waits is truly an acquired taste, and I'm glad I have acquired it.  This album is mostly rather quiet and relaxing, which for my Tom Waits experience, is a bit odd.  I love Watch Her Disappear and Alice.  They are my favorite songs, but the rest of the album is wonderful too!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Along with *Mule Variations* (1999) and the current *Blood Money*, his best work to date.
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