Aliceby Tom Waits
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.
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Performance CreditsTom 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 CreditsTom 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 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.
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...
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!
Along with *Mule Variations* (1999) and the current *Blood Money*, his best work to date.