20 Songs, 55 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

Working with two challenging avant-garde artists, avant-garde theater director Robert Wilson and novelist Williams S. Burroughs, Tom Waits could only add to the stakes of high weirdness. Waits’ music had been growing progressively darker and stranger with every release for years. This next challenge, to marry his musical vision with their skewered concepts and story, led to an album that is among the most difficult in the Waits’ canon. Its sound is dense, a Phil Spector Wall of Sound where the walls have come from the horror movie factory with eyeballs looking back and scrutinizing every move. Not that one expects accessibility from a Tom Waits recording, but these are eerie, extreme tone poems. For those drawn to dark moments, the effects are greatly satisfying. “Black Box Theme” creaks past with a slow, morbid crawl that sounds as if it were recorded centuries ago, while “’T’ain’t No Sin” with William Burroughs narrating and Greg Cohen offering off-kilter bass clarinet emits from a room somewhere in the back of an old house. The songs flow into one another, creating extended dreamlike sequences. Not for everyone, but extremely satisfying for those looking to escape alongside a foggy sea with little light or land in sight.

EDITORS’ NOTES

Working with two challenging avant-garde artists, avant-garde theater director Robert Wilson and novelist Williams S. Burroughs, Tom Waits could only add to the stakes of high weirdness. Waits’ music had been growing progressively darker and stranger with every release for years. This next challenge, to marry his musical vision with their skewered concepts and story, led to an album that is among the most difficult in the Waits’ canon. Its sound is dense, a Phil Spector Wall of Sound where the walls have come from the horror movie factory with eyeballs looking back and scrutinizing every move. Not that one expects accessibility from a Tom Waits recording, but these are eerie, extreme tone poems. For those drawn to dark moments, the effects are greatly satisfying. “Black Box Theme” creaks past with a slow, morbid crawl that sounds as if it were recorded centuries ago, while “’T’ain’t No Sin” with William Burroughs narrating and Greg Cohen offering off-kilter bass clarinet emits from a room somewhere in the back of an old house. The songs flow into one another, creating extended dreamlike sequences. Not for everyone, but extremely satisfying for those looking to escape alongside a foggy sea with little light or land in sight.

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Ratings and Reviews

4.2 out of 5
40 Ratings
40 Ratings
tooniepie ,

Der Freischütz Reborn

This is an awesome operetta Tom Waits style. It is based on an old German folktale, the same story used in the Weber opera Der Freischütz. If you like the musical saw and macabre german romanticism, this is for you.

Kinch ,

Genius

Thoroughly enjoyable, inventive, and a whole lot of fun. If you liked Blood money and Alice, this should be a no brainer. It's ragged, sometimes catchy, and beautiful in that barbed-wire and ashtray kind of way.

rpchurch ,

My favorite album, by my favorite artist.

Some people will tell you not to start with this record, if you're trying to get into Tom Waits...but not me. I started with Swordfishtrombones, but could have just as easily begun here. This one is like a miniature version of the Orphans box set. And, as with that set, the bawlers here will throw your heart in the ditch. And, if that ain't enough, you get a Waits/William Burroughs collab. If this was a rap album, that would be the #1 single, as it is, "'Tain's No Sin" is one of the oddest songs in Wits stories repertoire. But, "Russian Dance. "The Black Rider", and "The Last Rose of Summer" are some of my personal favorites - and probably a much better use of that $2.97 than that 40oz of Budweiser you are contemplating.

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