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splendid > reviews > 5/21/2002
Tom Waits
Tom Waits
Blood Money
Anti


Format Reviewed: CD

Soundclip: "Knife Chase"

Buy me now
Blood Money, one of the two Tom Waits albums released in the same day, is, like Alice, a theatrical effort. It's a collection of tunes that have shown up in the Waits/Wilson collaboration, Woyzeck, based on Buchner's play of the same name. Unlike Alice, though, it's not quite as strongly linked to the show that spawned the songs. There's not an especially obvious narrative here, though the links to madness, adultery, murder and love -- oblique, granted -- do provide enough for you to create a mental movie. This is a rather filmic album, after all.

There's a real sideshow feel to Blood Money, a feeling of country-dances and oppressive summer evenings. Sure, it doesn't have quite the narrative cohesion of some of Waits' other albums, but it's got as much panache. "A Good Man Is Hard To Find", despite its nihilistic lyrics ("only strangers sleep in my bed / my favourite words are good-bye") has a distinctly tipsy-night feel to it, a depressive-though-happy boardwalk feeling that, it seems, only Waits can pull off.

Stylistically, this album features tunes that sound more identifiably "late-period Waits" than its sister release, Alice: the carnival-mirror sounds of "Calliope" -- played on a 57-whistle number from 1929 -- sounds like a woozy update of Swordfishtrombones' "Dave The Butcher", with more kids-in-oubliettes appeal. "Knife Chase" seems to take ideas from Raymond Scott's "Powerhouse" and run with them: chiming guitars, wheezing, and the feeling that you're being pursued through Cuba by a guy who's carrying a fine assortment of Acme-produced merchandise. There are still fine weepies to be found -- "Lullaby" is perhaps one of the finest songs that Waits has yet laid down -- but they're not as much in the limelight here; the stalking thumpers of tunes like "God's Away On Business" and "Starving In The Belly Of The Whale" create a shadow from which it's hard to escape. Sure, there are other sad tunes to be found -- "Woe" and "The Part You Throw Away" -- but they seem to be coated, occasionally, in the smiling- (or griping-) through-the-sadness cloak that's served Waits well; "Coney Island Baby", a lovesong, manages to resurrect the tearing-up grin of Frank's Wild Years' "Innocent When You Dream". It's a sucker-punch, perhaps, but it's delightful.

More so than most other artists, Waits has reached the point where borrowing bits and pieces from his past styles is not an attempt to relive former glories, or to cover up for a lack of ideas. He can safely and freely plunder his stylistic catalog; rather than ill-considered bower-birding, the mixing of previous approaches and feels found here provides something new, yet pleasingly familiar. There are weird instruments aplenty -- four-foot seed-pods, anyone? -- but that's not the appeal; it's the fact that, just maybe, everything fits. Like waking up one morning to discover you suddenly like coffee, this is one of those albums that feels natural; the discord and the overwrought weepiness, the experimentalism and the simplicity -- everything works. It fits.

Of the two released, this is the album that veers closest to the Goreyesque-weirdo-with-a-thing-for-hitting-chests-of-drawers stereotype of all things Waitsian, but it's also the more finger-snappin'. Blood Money is a disc that you can dive in and out of -- and each time be confronted by a tune that'll make you break down and weep, buy you a drink or beat you up in a darkened alley. That alone makes it worth purchasing.



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