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  • Alice
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4.4 out of 5 stars
Format: Audio CD|Change
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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 May 2002
Tom Waits returns with this cd of material written for a stage production back in '92. Mixed with dark beautiful jazzy ballads and deep Waits throat sounds telling dreamy stories, this album shows Waits continuing in his uncustomary direction. Most reminiscent of the previous stage collaboration, The Black Rider. Nothing very new for Waits afficionados (some of which have probably already got their hands on demo versions of the material), but another very welcome proof of Tom Waits's singular art always worth a concentrated hearing. Very good string and brass arrangements. A lasting record.
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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 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 6 February 2013
I think this is Tom Waits pretty much at his best. If you don't like this, you don't like Tom Waits! Personally, I can't decide whether I rate this or Rain Dogs as his very best, but they're very different so comparing them is perhaps not appropriate. Alice is weird, but wonderfully so. Listening to it transports you into Mr. Waits' sometimes nightmarish world, but it's a world that's very well worth a visit. The first time I heard this I sat back afterwards feeling gobsmacked. It was all so strange that I was, to be honest, a little relieved when it was over, but it wasn't long before I was back listening to it again. I tend to hear different things and have different emotions each time I hear it. For me, this is what music is all about. Sure, Gary Barlow can write a nice tune, but Tom Waits will take you to a different world.
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on 5 December 2017
Old gravel throat's larynx is almost completely shot and some of these tracks are not particularly tuneful. but I guess that's not the point, there are some great songs here.
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on 21 October 2016
I recommend any Tom Waits fan that hasn't already got this to add to purchase. I listerning to it constantly, it's my favourite cd with a bit of everything. From fantastic lyrics to wonderful melodies & that distinctive gravel.
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on 29 April 2016
Very dismal yet at points very happy manic like table top joe and a very german number I cannot think the name of right now. I have listened from end of the album to the other. Quite a few vivid times.
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on 6 January 2018
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on 12 April 2017
Pick it up, put it on and look forward to great music.
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