Tom Waits - Alice

NME.COM feature on Tom Waits - Alice album including album review, artwork, tracks, listen now, tour dates, discography and more.

Album Review

Release date: 07 May 2002

Tom Waits - Alice

Waits, Tom : Alice

...mugging it up like Oscar from 'Sesame Street'...

Junkyard blues noise crooner Tom Waits does not do things by half. He follows the soulful, twisted invention of 1999's 'Mule Variations' with two albums of startling brilliance. The first is 'Alice'. Close to 'Mule Variations' in its generous scope and its musing on love and death, it is also a companion piece to 1978's 'Blue Valentine', full...

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  • May 14, 2002

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Tom Waits News

Tom Waits signs to booking agency for the first time in 20 years

Tom Waits signs to booking agency for the first time in 20 years

Waits played his first gig in five years in October 2013 as part of Neil Young's Bridge School Benefit

Tom Waits plays first gig in five years – watch

Tom Waits plays first gig in five years – watch

He played a 10 song set as part of Neil Young's Bridge School Benefit concert in California

Tom Waits to give rare live performance at Bridge School Benefit gig

Tom Waits to give rare live performance at Bridge School Benefit gig

The legendary singer hasn't performed a live show since 2008

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Tom Waits - Alice: Wikipedia Album Entry

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.

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