At this stage of the game, any new Tom Waits record is an event. Listening through the music of his entire career is daunting, to say the least, but it's a journey no one else, with the possible exception of Bob Dylan, has taken before. If one listens to the official recordings, from 1973's Closing Time, featuring the songs of an itinerant Beat ...Read MoreAt this stage of the game, any new Tom Waits record is an event. Listening through the music of his entire career is daunting, to say the least, but it's a journey no one else, with the possible exception of Bob Dylan, has taken before. If one listens to the official recordings, from 1973's Closing Time, featuring the songs of an itinerant Beat barroom singer (no lounges please), right on through to the frenetic mania of 2004's Real Gone, one becomes aware of not only the twists and turns of a songwriter wrestling and bellowing at and with his muse, but of a journeyman artist barely able to hold on to the lid of his creativity, let alone keep it on. True, there have been many stops along the way: in the seediest lounges (1977's Foreign Affairs, which could have been a twisted inspiration to novelist Phillip Kerr when he wrote the Berlin Noir trilogy); acid-drenched blues scree (1980's Heartattack and Vine); travelogues of the unseen and the unspeakable (1985's Rain Dogs); seething and murderous suburban nightmares (1987's Franks Wild Years); the frighteningly comic tales of plagues and carnivals (1993's Black Rider); the scrape, squeal, and hollowed-out metal crunch of urban junkyards and classically American paranoia (1999's Mule Variations); and through-the-mirror-darkly image nightmares and fairy tale variations (2002's Alice and Blood Money). All of it is contained in the man who takes delight in the bent, quarreling marriage of song and sound with dangerously comic imagery.Orphans is the most unwieldy Tom Waits collection yet. Packaged in a Cibachrome-tinted box are three discs containing 56 songs total. It claims 30 new tunes, but a mere 14 can be found on other records -- six othersd have to be hunted for while the remainder have shown up in various incarnationson soundtracks, compilations, etc. This crazy thing began as a collection of outtakes, rarities, soundtrack tunes, and compilation-only cuts -- some of which survive here in new form, including tracks from the Ramblin' Jack Elliot tribute, the Bridge benefit, and two Ramones covers, to name a few. In other words, the first conception for this mess was as a hodgepodge collection of attic material. Waits checked out the tune selection as it was and said something like "nah, bad idea; this would suck." So, he did what any self-respecting artist with a head full of ideas, two stomping, shuffling feet, and itchy fingers -- and time on his hands -- would do: he recorded new songs and re-recorded others, so the thing would have some kind of elasticity yet hold its rickety bone and far-reaching sources together by means of cheap glue, chewed gum, solder, and a visionary recording engineer named Karl Derfler. The end result is this daunting triple disc divided by title and theme: disc one is "Brawlers," Waits' rock and blues record, evoking everyone from T. Rex and Johnny Burnette to Sonny Curtis and Howlin' Wolf. It's a grand thing, since he hasn't released one like this before -- the closest were Heartattack and Vine on one side and Mule Variations on the other. Travel, regret, murder, salvation, guttersnipe meditations on sorrow, and nefarious and broken-down innocent -- and nefarious -- amorous intentions are a few of the themes that run through these tunes like oil and sand. Disc two is "Bawlers," a collection of ballads, raw love songs, weepy wine tunes, wistful yet tentative hope -- in the form of floppy prayers -- and an under-the-table and wishing, bewildered, yet dead-on topical tome on the world's political situation. Disc three, entitled "Bastards," is even edgier; it's Waits hanging out there with his music and muse on the lunatic fringe of experimentation. Think Bone Machine's wilder moments and Waits' loopy standup comedy in the form of six spoken word pieces included here. Thank goodness he finally did this. If you've ever seen the man on a stage, you'll get why these are so important immediately."Brawler" digs deep into the American roots music that...Read Less
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