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  • Alice
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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Format: Audio CD|Change
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on 12 April 2017
Pick it up, put it on and look forward to great music.
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on 22 April 2017
fast - good value, great!
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on 10 January 2008
The ideas of lust, obsession, innocence and regret are explored throughout in Alice, a lush and surreal fever dream of an album that manages to tie in nicely with that other, similarly minded theatrical outing Blood Money, as well as elements of the earlier opus Frank's Wild Years, by once again attempting the conceptual thing. Here, amidst the lo-fi production techniques and a minimal wash of jazz-tinged instrumentation, Waits and his wife and co-writer Kathleen Brennan ruminate on the story of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and its roots within the obsessive, and possibly even dangerous relationship between the author Lewis Carroll, and his young muse Alice Liddell.

Like Blood Money, Alice opts for a non-linear song-cycle; suggesting stories through snatches of surreal and often beautiful lyrical imagery and through the delicate use of arrangements - which here suggest nods to ambient jazz, cabaret and torch-song minimalism - whilst simultaneously tying into the thematic ideas behind the album as a whole. The music is much more languid and melancholic than the abrasive clatter of Blood Money, taking Waits back to the lullaby territory of classic songs like I Hope That I Don't Fall in Love with You, Martha and that perennial favourite Johnsburg, Illinois. As ever with Waits, the arrangements are sublime throughout; drawing primarily on piano, organ, bass and light percussion, with the whole thing further complemented by those beautifully wilting horn arrangements and a light fluttering of strings. From the opening burst of melancholy of the title track, right the way through to the closing instrumental, Fawn, Waits captures a continual mood of despair, loneliness and absolute heartbreak, as he talks of gravesides, drunks, loners and freaks; all backed by that rich and evocative instrumentation, and the air of archaic period squalor, carnival melancholy and junkyard melodrama, all of which are further referenced in the retrogressive, 20's style recording techniques, and those sepia-tinted portraits of Waits as a dust-bole vagabond.

The mood of the record throughout is tainted with a sense of midnight melancholy, drifting as if sleeping through the opening title track; which has an achingly minimal arrangement that brings to mind the lulled flutter of late-night yearning so central to an album like Closing Time - but with a voice that seems further ravaged by too much booze, too many cigarettes and the continual grind of old age. Here, Waits sings in that trademark growl of "dreamy weather, along an icy pond", before crying out "how does the ocean rock the boat, how did the razor find my throat"; with the bleaker themes behind the song (and the album) slowly becoming clear. The mood and ideas are continued through to the next track, Everything You Can Think - with those gruff, junk-yard-dog-like vocals getting lost in a swirl of sweet and exotic music that wraps itself around the narrator beautifully - as the sound of a distant train takes us from Alice, through to the yearning splendour of Everything You Can Think, and beyond, to the Flower's Grave; one of Waits' most beautiful ballads.

The album breaks away from the sad-song format briefly with the terrific Weimar stomp of Komienezuspadt; a song that takes Waits' seeming obsession with German cabaret to a level that not even the barking Blood Money would dare ascend - as the band offer a bust of 20's style jazz-horn over a clomping piece of percussion - whilst Waits shouts German nonsense in his most shrill and shrieking voice! Along with Table Top Joe, a more traditional jazz/blues number with imagery closer to that of his classic 70's period, and the stomping carnival waltz the Reeperhbahn, Komienezuspadt represents the album's barmier side; with these three songs acting as a sort of schizophrenic interlude between the more lulled and affecting ballads that make up the majority of the album's sound. Other songs, such as Poor Edward, Lost in the Harbour, Watch Her Disappear (one of Waits' most sinister spoken-word moments, alongside What's He Building? and The Ocean Doesn't Want Me) and I'm Still Here all continue the themes of obsessive (self-destructive?) love, despair and melancholy; all notions that are finally made explicit with the heartbreaking song, Fish & Bird.

Here, Waits and Brennan riff on the notion of forbidden desire and the pain of unrequited love, telling a multi-layered story within a story that deals specifically with the 'Romeo and Juliet' style relationship between a seagull and a whale. Here, the strained relationship between the middle-aged Lewis Carroll and the young Alice Liddell becomes absolutely clear. Two people from different worlds - one madly in love with the other - one old enough and wise enough to know better, even though the decision is tearing him apart - forced to go their separate ways, though safe in the knowledge that their feelings for one another will live on in the ashes of time. Obviously, the song, like all of the songs on Alice, can be enjoyed as part of the concept, or as an album in the traditional sense. Waits, as a songwriter and performer, is able to connect the songs and the subject matter to feelings and emotions that are universal; meaning that even songs as lyrically surreal and abstract as Fish & Bird, Flowers Grave and Poor Edward can still resonate with the listener on a completely personal level.

The haunting Barcarolle (where Waits sings "in the wine of my heart there's a stone / in a well made of bone / that you bring to the pond / and I'm here in your pocket / curled up in a dollar / and the chain from your watch around my neck / and I'll stay right here / until it's time") links the end of the album back to the beginning, with references to being "in the blond summer grass..." and the branches spell "Alice"; before bringing us to the perfect close with the short instrumental, Fawn. Along with Closing Time, Swordfishtrombones, Blood Money and Bone Machine, Alice is another contender for the title of the greatest Tom Waits album; a work of unbridled, cohesive, intoxicating genius that wraps it's heartfelt and fascinating words in a shroud of subtle arrangements, and an unparalleled use of atmosphere, character and imagination.
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on 1 June 2002
Do you like me have a problem with being allowed to put on Tom albums at home? The woman in my life can't get to grips with "those noisy tracks". But I can get away with Closing Time, an album almost 30 years old, plus selected tracks from the years since.
And now Alice. It's achingly beautiful, chilled, smoky, low-down cabaret shmaltz. But unlike those early jazzy albums, you know that the creator has now lived a lot, growled a lot, hit a lot of percussion - he's been through albums like Bone Machine and come out the other side. All of his depth and complexity is there within a beautiful silky wrapping. And those lyrics. Arithmetic, arithmetock....
The pinacle of his career.
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#1 HALL OF FAMEon 10 August 2002
Tom Waits has made some great records since 'Rain Dogs': 'Innocent When You Dream', 'Walkin Away', 'The Black Rider', 'Goin' Out West', 'Get Behind the Mule', 'Dog Door'- but there has been some art w***- which you had to admire more than enjoy. 'Alice' is the most satisfying of the two new albums- though 'Blood Money' does feature the gorgeous 'Coney Island Baby' and the circus Dante of 'Misery is the River of the World'. This is a more restrained album, the best night-time record since either 'I see a Darkness' or 'Hats'. The musical elements don't cloud the songwriting- there are so many highlights: 'No One Knows I'm Gone', 'Table Top Joe', 'I'm Still Here', 'Flower's Grave' & the title track. For those who dig the mad semi-industrial Kurt Weill side of Waits- enjoy the classic 'Kommienezuspadt' - which reminds me a little of Angelo Badalamenti' score to 'Mulholland Drive'.
'Alice' is a great album that gets, unbelievably, better with each listen. Waits is on the same top form of 'Swordfishtrombones'/'Rain Dogs' again. This is a must purchase- though 'The Annotated Alice' might be a wise purchase also!
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on 24 August 2002
An astonishingly moving sequence of songs, a collection I would agree to be perhaps the crown of Mr Waits' achievements. The emotional progression through the album is immaculately well judged, and follows a path from isolated lonely yearning, through dark avenues of insanity and morbidity (recurrent motifs in the album are notions of water, death and loneliness; consider the image of the face being a beach and the eyes being fish - the image is introduced in 'Everything you can think' and makes a startling reoccurrence in 'We're all mad here'). The final uneasy union of the protagonist with his object of desire is the subject of the masterful closer 'Barcarolle.
A magnificent emotional progression then and, it is worth pointing out, one completely different to how it was presented on the stage. Without the complex dialogue in between and the visual splendour of the stage production, the sequence used for the play would have been meaningless and emotionally neutered. Nonetheless, for posterity, here is a run through of the sequence and a brief description of how the songs were used in Wilson's production of Alice;
The first song is sung by Dodgson, the central male character of the play, and is 'Alice'. Following this, Alice falls into the rabbit hole and mournfully sings 'No one knows I'm gone'. She then meets 2 flowers, one of whom (called Lily) sings 'Flower's grave' before the 2 flowers burst into tears. Alice then drinks (courtesy of the white rabbit) the shrinking potion and meets the caterpillar, who tells her about 'Table top joe' (sung in the 3rd person, as opposed to the version on the album). We then see Dodgson writing a letter to Alice (which appears on the album as 'Watch her disappear'). Following this, Alice finds the mad hatters tea party where she is treated to a rendition of 'We're all mad here'. There is then a song which is not included on the album called 'You are old' sung by Father William and his son. Alice, having left the tea party then meets a fawn in the forest and they sing a beautiful wordless song together ('Fawn'), before the fawn loses its nerve and runs away into the forest. We then see the Black King (the chess piece) singing 'Reeperbahn', before Alice's trial. The Executioner introduces another musical theme not included on the album; 'You've murdered the time'. Alice is rescued by the White knight who sings to her the 'Fish & Bird' track, with Alice joining in on the "Please don't cry" chorus. A chorus of vicars then sing 'Jabberwocky' (again - not included), introducing the puzzle Alice must break to escape. The White knight (in response to Alice's asking for help to break the riddle) sings 'Everything you can think'. He leaves Alice, and she comes across a sheep in a shop who she also asks for help. The sheep tells Alice that it cannot help her, but nonetheless they sing 'Barcarolle' together as they take a boat trip. Alice meets Humpty Dumpty who sings 'Lost in the Harbour'. Following this there are two more unreleased tracks, 'Altar Boy' by the Duchess and the mad hatter, and a brief refrain 'It always rains here' by Tweedledee and tweedldum. After this the White Knight fights the Black knight (who kidnaps Alice), and lies defeated singing 'Poor Edward', before walking offstage (to reveal on the back of his head - a girl's face). After this there is a big court case as to who wrote the letter to Alice which includes an ensemble rendition of the unreleased track 'You've murdered the time'. Ultimately, the White knight, the white rabbit and Dodgson all turn up in the case and admit writing the letter, and are all beheaded, before Lewis Carroll turns up and admits to writing everything, that all of the characters are his creations. At this the world breaks down and it is revealed that Alice and all of the events were in the head of this man. The play closes with Alice, as an old woman with a cat on her knee, singing 'I'm still here'.
So, there is the sequence of events in the play. I have simplified them somewhat, so you get an idea of how complex it is. Needless to say, as the events are all used to show different parts of the desire for Alice, including the possessive, aggressive and loving aspects of this, then they are no more relevant in the sequence they were used in the play than in the sequence Waits chooses for the album. Bear in mind, Waits wrote the songs and chose the sequence on the album, Wilson chose the sequence in the play. Notice the absence of Kommienezuspadt. Anyway, should you wish to program the sequence in the play, programme your CD to;
As I have said, I find both the logical narrative/emotional progression of Waits' sequencing better, and I find it to be more musically satisfying.
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on 6 May 2002
This album is so beautiful and so moving. It's full of late night ballads, with the usual freakish Waitsian twists though. Torch songs for the insane. The album opens with the gentle, lilting title track, which contains Waits' least gravelly vocal in years. His vocals throughout the album are as good as he has ever delivered, and his ballad singing is much more agreeable than it is on Blood Money. After the beauty of the title track, beautifully chilled as it is with sinister but distanced associations (Lewis Carrol's unhealthy preoccupation with the girl who inspired Alice In Wonderland) we get the ugly and mischevious stomp, Everything You Can Think, which is very similar to the stomps on Blood Money. However, the album really unfolds into something truly marvellous after this. A couple of lovely ballads then the brilliant malevolent Germanic spitting of Kommienezuspadt. This is followed by two songs about freaks - Poor Edward, with a woman's face stuck on the back of his head, his evil twin he cannot escape from and who whisper terrible things to him, and Table Top Joe, who was born without a body, but has hands, and has proved himself a brilliant pianist. Like Eyeball Kid from Mule Variations, it's the story of a freak making good despite the odds. Once again Tom treads the line between comical and poignant. Table Top Joe is musically one of the nicest surprises on the album, as Waits returns to his jazz roots and scats enthusiastically for the first time in over two decades. But it's important to emphasise the beauty and power of the ballads on this album. There are plenty of them, and they are all really beautiful and moving, and sung in Tom's most humane and gentle voice. Perhaps the most beautiful are 'Lost In The Harbour' and 'Fish And Bird'. This album will send you off to the Dreamland talked of in the lyrics. And you may want to never return.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 22 January 2012
The booklet - so often a highlight of Tom`s releases - is worth the price of admission alone, with darkly atmospheric, unsettlingly droll photos of Waits in windswept ringmasterful pomp, eccentrically sprawled on a carriage wheel in a field, besuited and with ever-present hat, wielding a whip which looks as if it`s lassoing thin air. There`s also a moody photo of his hat, and another of Tom gazing quizzically at us, only his weathered face barely visible amid ominous shadows.
Alice, recorded concurrently with the equally splendid Blood Money, is a haunting collection of songs that repays many visits. As usual, co-writing credits are shared with wife/muse Kathleen, whose influence and inspiration over the last thirty years have been a boon for both Tom and us.
I derive anticipatory enjoyment from simply reading the titles of Waits` songs, before I`ve even heard them. I`m never disappointed, and this is one of his - well, I was about to say one of his best, but I haven`t heard a less than superb Waits disc since the pre-Kathleeen Heartattack & Vine (which I was never that keen on) from 1980.
Lost In The Harbour has a devastatingly moving title hook, and is one of his most touching songs. In recent years, I`ve noticed how Tom`s lyrics have often been genuinely moving, in a way they were more rarely in his earlier days. Marriage, kids, contentment? Glad of what he has, awareness of its precious value...?
Alice has a hermetic, spare sound on most tracks, which gives the whole thing an almost `silent movie` feel, as if the music is sepia-coloured. It`s compelling, winning even, and oddly `European` in its sensibilities.
There`s still plenty of the expected Waits wordplay, for example:

"And the raindrops on my window, and the ice in my drink, baby
All that I can think of is Alice Arithmetic Arithmetock
I turn the hands back on the clock
How does the ocean rock the boat, how did the razor find my throat...?"

I`m Still Here is a delicately brief lovelorn ditty that might just break your heart. It begins:

"You haven`t looked at me that way in years"

Later, pleadingly:

"How long was I dreaming? What was it you wanted me for?
...Your watch has stopped and the pond is clear
Someone turn the lights back on
I`ll love you til all time is gone"

Is there a writer of more original, poetic, poignant, as well as genuinely witty, lyrics?
There is nothing here that is less than cherishable. I`ve seldom heard Tom sound so thoughtful, so sobered. Much is made of the Beefheartian frenzy of his more `out there` music - nearly all of which I enjoy as much as this - but when he comes up with a collection of tender, hazy, sometimes downright sickly-lit ballads like these, I am happy to drown in his wizardry. After all, he holds the whip hand!
Literally wonderful - one of Tom`s very best.
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on 3 April 2006
I am something of a Tom Waits obsessive. I own 8 of his albums and am familiar with a couple more; well, this may just be my favourite. The seminal 'Rain Dogs' (1985) is more varied and representative, but 'Alice' is very special indeed. Imagine Samuel Beckett's Krapp lodging with Marlene Dietrich in an opium den and perhaps you're a bit closer to imagining this album, which began life in 1992 as the soundtrack to a stage play about Lewis Carroll and his unhealthy obsession with Alice Liddell. The production and instrumentation are smokily, nostalgically evocative of '30s Europe: Waits uses strings for the first time since before 'Swordfishtrombones', and they are taut and aching. The songs are tied together by themes of impossible love and madness, but circus freaks, hipbones, roses and crows are among the other images plucked from Waits' unique lyrical wardrobe. The most up-tempo numbers are the stomping 'Kommienezuspadt', featuring German both real and imagined and Waits at his most deranged, and the tinkling 'Tabletop Joe'. Elsewhere, the mood is one of deformity and obsession made beautiful, and the sense of longing is almost unbelievably, unbearably intense. The title track, bathing in muted horns, is one of the most accessible (yet profoundly wonderful) songs in Waits' recent catalogue; 'Poor Edward' takes the same melody and manages to make it even more melancholy, thanks in part to its use of Stroh violin (a violin with a metal horn attached); it makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck, as does 'Watch Her Disappear' and 'Lost In The Harbour'. But I'm not sure they're even the best tracks... so I'd better stop myself. Suffice to say, I cannot think of any other album that manages to be so "emotional" without ever being sentimental, cloying or posturing. You'll come up gasping for air.
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on 11 May 2013
I fell in love with the music of Tom Waits about 25 years ago and have bought his albums since then, and previous works as well. However, this CD is exceptional and exceptionally beautiful. It seems to draw together all Mr Waits' styles from "Small Change" to "Franks Wild Years" to "Bad as Me". Tom Waits stands alone and I cannot understand why he is not up there with Dylan.
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