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105 customer reviews

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Audio CD, May 7, 2002
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Editorial Reviews


The grizzled modern persona of Tom Waits finds new life on Alice, a slow, grave record that explores physical and moral decay with the same harrowing insight of 1992's Bone Machine. Originally written as an opera with his longtime songwriting partner, playwright Kathleen Brennan, the songs on Alice were performed live in a Hamburg theater for 18 months in 1992 and 1993, but were never committed to tape (officially, at least). This studio recording retains a sense of narrative cohesion, giving Waits a set of tormented and bizarre characters that go well with the motley crew he's assembled over the years. It is, in fact, the most consistent record of Waits's career, offering not only a stable train of thought, but a musical approach that, while featuring the same vaudevillian touches that have characterized his work since Swordfishtrombones, finds a voice all its own. Without much percussion to back them up, violins, cellos, and horns dominate the record, bathing Waits's familiar growl in a sly, slow cacophony that sounds like an underwater fugue, the notes like rust on the strings. "Watch Her Disappear," with its sparse, sad pump organ, and the twisted torch song "Reeperbahn" have the smoky café mystery of Edith Piaf by way of Leonard Cohen, recovered from the water-logged tapes in Cole Porter's long-lost dingy. It's a burst of dark, world-weary poetry for lonely Saturday nights, cloudy days on the beach, or long strolls through graveyards. --Matthew Cooke

1. Alice
2. Everything You Can Think
3. Flowers Grave
4. No One Knows I'm Gone
5. Kommienezuepadt
6. Poor Edward
7. Table Top Joe
8. Lost In The Harbor
9. We're All Mad Here
10. Watch Her Disappear
11. Reeperbahn
12. I'm Still Here
13. Fish & Bird
14. Barcarolle
15. Fawn

Product Details

  • Audio CD (May 7, 2002)
  • Original Release Date: 2002
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Anti
  • ASIN: B00005YX3L
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (105 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #33,411 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Robert C. Hamilton on November 2, 2003
Format: Audio CD
Forbidden love is one of the perennial themes of mankind; when a genius like Tom Waits tackles this theme, the results--as here--can be awesome.
The album is based loosely around the life and work of Charles Dodgson, known to the world as Lewis Carroll, author of the Alice in Wonderland books. The songs mostly comment on his famous obsession with a neighbor girl named Alice, for whom he wrote the beloved books. However, this album is not, as some critics maintain, about "intergenerational relationships", but more about hopeless love in general.
The album's tone is that of a sinister fairy-tale for grownups. It begins with the brilliantly sultry title song, which sets forth the subject and obsession of the entire work. The next track, "Everything you can Think," paints a vivid and surrealist picture of a horrifying sort of wonderland--"Everything you can think of is true / the dish ran away with the spoon / look deep in your heart for the little, red glow / we're decomposing as we go."
As many critics have pointed out, Alice is more weighted toward soft, slow ballads than the average Waits album. This is true; musically it is more accessible than, say, Bone Machine. But there is enough other material to make the CD feel balanced. "Kommienezeupadt", though many object to its presence on this disc, is actually a nice contrast to the other material and is an enjoyably insane track. "Table-Top Joe" is a very fun song, and reveals the amazing versatility of Tom Waits' voice.
But the real strength comes in the heartbreaking ballads. It is impossible to choose a favorite song on here, since there really are no weak links.
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63 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Royce E. Buehler on May 28, 2002
Format: Audio CD
In the third chapter of "Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There," Alice strays into a forgetful forest, in which everything loses its name. There she meets a fawn, and they wander companionably until they come to a clearing, whereupon the Fawn remembers what fawns and human girls are, and it bounds away in fear. Carroll was obsessed and desolated by the innocence lost with childhood, and here, just for a moment, his creation Alice mirrors his desolation, disclosing an even more irretrievable innocence lost before childhood.
"Alice," Tom Wait's cycle of theater songs from 1992, about the time he was producing "Bone Machine," captures that desolation and bottles it in a ghostly, smoky glass. The album offers, in the same package, what are probably Waits's most emotionally accessible music, and most intellectually inaccessible lyrics. (The latter may be partly because the songs were written for multiple characters in an opera, and it's hard to disentangle them when they're all rendered by one singer. That's why I feel unable, yet, to go from four and a half to five stars: Unlike most of his best material, these songs don't sound designed for Tom's voice.)
I know this album will be getting more play from me than its companion release, Blood Money. The pleasures of the latter all lie on its surface. Its point of view is monochrome, uniformly cynical, and easily fathomed (appropriately enough, since that matches the worldview of Woyzeck - each of these two song cycles serves its own theater piece well), while "Alice" is nacreous, balancing the tenderness and reality of Carroll's unachievable love with the ominous sense of mortality and defilement that haunt it.
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42 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Mark Begley on May 15, 2002
Format: Audio CD
Any time I play a post-'80s Tom Waits album for an unintiated listener, they almost always state: "This sounds like Disney music." Disney music sung by a bedraggled quarryman, I say. So it only seems fitting that Waits would end up writing the music and libretto for a production of the story behind Alice in Wonderland. The songs, mostly ballads, have that '40s-'50s Disney-score feel ("We're all mad here," is one example), coupled with the utterly desperate, and somewhat depraved lyrics, that pointedly convey Carroll's obsession with his young neighbor. "Everything you think," and "No one knows I'm gone," are heart-rending without swimming in bathos (or pathos). "Kommienezuepadt," is one of the few wild rides on the album (see Blood Money, Waits' other recent release for more wildness). As with Blood Money, and also Black Rider and Frank's Wild Years, Waits' writing seems more focused than on other albums, with Alice being possibly the most "complete" work he has ever created. It's certainly the most poetic. For those fans who tuned out when Waits switched from jazzy bar tunes to wild musical experimentation, this will be a welcome regression back to those times. Although not necessarily jazz or blues, the songs here are slow-tempoed, with sparse instrumentation. For those fans who like all of Waits' work, or just the "later" stuff, will also be pleased. It is in fact a perfect combination, along with the equally brilliant Blood Money, of Waits' musical styles, as well as the pinnacle of his oeuvre to date. It is amazing to see how Waits continues to produce such stunning work after more than 30 years of performing. Here's to many, many more!
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