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How long was I dreaming?
on 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"
"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.