Click here to return to the Shaking Through Home Page


  Shaking WWW


 Archive Home | Movies | Music | Books | Comics | Editorial


Music Archives: Most Recent | Highest Rated | Alphabetical | Highest Rated 2006

Waits & Measures


Tom Waits: Alice

Anti-, 2002

Rating: 4.2


Tom Waits: Blood Money

Anti-, 2002

Rating: 3.8



Posted: May 17, 2002

By Laurence Station

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 1992.

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 diverse catalog.

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 Variations

Site design copyright © 2001-2011 Shaking 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 is strictly forbidden.



 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A classic
 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
 1.1-1.9: Pretty bad
 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

Archived Reviews

Most Recent

Highest Rated



Best Of Lists: All

Rox Populi: (Latest) (Archives)

Halftime Reports