is the legitimate release of music that had its origin in the theatre. Waits' collaborative production of Alice
-- a tale about the obsessive side of the author of that famed looking-glass tale -- was, in sound, very much like his earlier collaboration, the rough-round-the-edges howl of The Black Rider
, cut with tunes so simple that in less sure hands they'd have turned to treacle. In opposition to the demos of the work -- a theft (and then, bizarrely, return) of Waits' personal tapes of the songs-in-progress -- this album, coming nearly ten years after the show debuted, seems a lot smoother, a more slow-burning tribute to an elusive object of desire. The songs are rich, though there's not quite as much on-the-edge desperation (or outright insanity) as has been explored elsewhere in Waits' canon -- there's an after-dinner, satisfied-and-sleepy feel to some of the slower numbers. In fact, title track "Alice" is as close as Waits has come in a long time to the sleepiness of earlier periods; piano, bass, muted horns -- it's afternoon-light through venetian blinds, persistent thoughts of She, only much more natural than ever before. Elsewhere, Stroh violins -- think of your run-of-the-mill fiddle with a horn attached -- create a from-the-ether atmosphere that's only aided by the sparse arrangements, highlighting the fact that the Brennan/Waits team is among the best songwriters around. (Could David/Bacharach ever construct a sympathetic tune about a guy without a body who wanted to work The Sands? I think not.) In terms of grand weepers, too, it doesn't get much better than this: if tunes like "Flower's Grave" or "No One Knows I'm Gone" don't move you, then you are officially dead.
Of course, that's not to say that it's all languid despair on wooden floors: the album is given a hearty kick by mad-rabbit fancies ("Kommienezuspadt") and "Singapore"-reminiscent tales of bizarre, seemingly piratical journeys ("Everything You Can Think"). There's swing amongst the sadness -- not enough to turn this into a laugh-a-minute excursion, but enough to remind the listener that there's light in the world, as well as dark.
Most of all, Alice appears to be shaped by the feel of Waits' most recent tour. There's a visceral, shaggy, performative feel to the tunes, yet it's one that's a world away from the still-touted boozer-who-tinkles-the-ivories hokum of previous years. There's a sense, at once, of showmanship and nakedness, though it's never anything less than completely honest. There's no U2-like posing, no nu-metal faux-theatre; just the refreshing feeling that you're listening to someone who really, really means it.
I defy you to find a more elegantly shambolic, soulfully homespun and, indeed, heartfelt album than this. Tom Waits' "lost masterpiece", as it was once nicknamed, has come into the light. Buy it.