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4.5 out of 5 stars
Alice
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40 of 40 people found the following review helpful
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. Newcomers to this music might find Waits an unlikely balladeer, but the "die-hard" fans who consistently describe his voice as "beautiful" are not making things up--I think if you listen to the sort of incredible pathos and experience his voice has accrued over the years, and the way he uses it to communicate so directly to the deepest human emotions, you will agree that comments about his "growliness" become irrelevant. His voice is a remarkable instrument, and he knows exactly how to use it. If this album were sung by someone with perfect technique and melliifluous tone, I think it would lose most of its impact.
The first time I listened to Alice all the way through, my first thought was of the classical definition of tragedy: an art form that causes catharsis by producing pity and fear in the observer. As we listen to this work, we feel great pity for the character(s) Waits portrays as situations become increasingly hopeless, but by the last two songs, a true state of emotional rest has been reached. For me, Alice is the most remarkable work to have yet issued from the popular music world.
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63 of 69 people found the following review helpful
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. That album is grand posturing by a gleefully evil minded carnival barker; this one is authentic exploration, both of the deep currents in Lewis Carroll's two masterpieces, and of the human condition.
One possible reading of the plot would run this way.
"Alice" sets the metascene, the relationship between the teller and the beloved told-to. "Everything You Can Think" sets the scene, via a railway carriage ride (shades of Sylvie and Bruno!) into Looking-Glass land. Then come two arias sung looking back from Alice's old age. First Alice (who is a flower, specifically a lily) sings a lament that "no one puts flowers on a flower's grave." Carroll, already engraved ("the moon is full here every night"), sings an answering lament and plea - and warning ("Live me golden tell me dark/Hide from Graveyard John").
The flashforward ends. A sudden, blitzkrieg uptempo slams us into a nightmarish Dreamland: "Kommienezuspadt" is the manic white rabbit's advice, half in German, half in gibberish, to be on time. "Sei punktlich" - be punctual - he howls, with all the insistence of Prussian clockwork. We meet several more denizens of this crazed underworld in the next four numbers. The Caterpillar from his shroomtop croons the Armstrong ballad "Table Top Joe"; the Mad Hatter and March Hare ("We're All Mad Here") do a creditable impersonation of those Graveyard Johns that Alice should have been hiding from.
We get images of Alice's grown-up sexuality , light ("Watch Her Disappear") and dark ("Reeperbahn"). Then two Platonic, cosmically lonesome ballads, from Alice again ("I'm Still Here"), and from a sympathetic sailor in a bar.

In "Barcarolle", things get more nameless than ever. Alice becomes both "you" and "she"; Carroll becomes both "you" and "a man she kissed on a train." Are we dealing with Carroll's obsession now, or Waits', or the listener's? And no sooner has the singer declared to Alice "I belong to you", than she breaks away, suddenly restored to awareness and fear, and leaves him forever desolate at the edge of the forest clearing (the final instrumental "Fawn".)

Well anyway, that's my take. But as Mac the Knife once said, "Anders geht es auch."
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42 of 47 people found the following review helpful
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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49 of 59 people found the following review helpful
on November 14, 2006
Format: Audio CD
I like to stay up at late at night and play my playstation and listen to my ipod and stuff but i've been getting bad grades and my Dad got mad. He took away my ipod and my playstation and said he wouldn't let me download the new Justin Timberlake album. But then he came home one night and said he downloaded the new Justin Timberlake on to my ipod for me and then he told me that Justin stays up all night too and I should really listen to his new album to see what it has done to him. Well let me just say I was shocked, Justin sounded so tired and sad and his voice was all hoarse, and who is this "Alice"? I thought he was dating Cameron Diaz. But then I found out my Dad put an album by someone named Tom Waits on my ipod and said it was Justin. My Dad thinks he's funny. Well you know what, I listened to it some more and I like Tom Waits! He probably never sleeps. He probably stays up for weeks and I bet his Dad doesn't get mad when he hears the cool albums Tom makes. I bet stupid Justin Timberlake goes to bed at like 9:00 so he's all refreshed to make his fancy dancy silly music. He should stay up and be cool like Tom. ~ Bye!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 2002
Format: Audio CD
I own many of Waits' discs, and I have slowly become an avid fan of his. I think that I took the right approach to liking his music: I started from the beginning. I first bought Closing Time, then Heart of Saturday Night, and so forth (skipping some...I'm not made of money!). I think that each "era" of his music has been valid and very entertaining in its own way. I especially love the adventures that I experienced with Swordfishtrombones, Rain Dogs and Frank's Wild Years. Those albums changed the way that I think about music and the way that it is made.
In light of my fanhood, don't just push me off as a raving, slobbering fan when I give Alice the official "It's My Favorite Tom Waits Album" title. I honestly think that it is his finest work to date.
The title track is definitely something special, but it is a standout on the album. Not that the rest of the album isn't exceptional, but its tough to top the almost conversational pace of the lyrics, the black, white and grey imagery that the music produces, and the breath-y saxophone solo that sounds almost like someone whispering in your ear.
In stark contrast (and more typical of the middle section of the CD), Everything You Can Think is a jarring, toppling, abrasive poem/song full of sharp rhythmic verse and spooky, falling strings and horns.
My favorite moments of Alice come towards the end, where the mood settles into a very wistful and lonely atmosphere, describing dusty drinking spots where the regulars parallel those of Cheers, minus the good times(Reeperbahn); a tale of whale that falls impossibly in love with a bird, a perfect metaphor for the "love that can't be" theme of the album (Fish and Bird); the textural and wonderful wordplay of a voyeur across the lawn (Watch Her Disappear); and the confusing, if not enchanting description of sleeping in your dream girl's pocket (Barcarolle). Like most of Waits' best works, Alice closes with a haunting instrumental, featuring the chilling and screechy violin that is so prevalent throughout the entire CD.
If you're desensitized to Waits' voice, then you can truly appreciate this complex album. If not, then check out Closing Time and start building your appreciation for his songwriting skills so that you can look past the abrasive outer coating of his music.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on April 5, 2005
Format: Audio CD
Alice is the second addition in what I like to call the "Holy Trinity of Musical brilliance" (which also consists of Waits' albums "Blood Money" and "Mule Variations"). Alice in a brief and hardly worthy description is basically a dream-like vision of a world in which the moon is full every night, fishes make wishes on you, Table Top Joe can play Stravinsky on a baby grand, the wailing of the baby meets the footsteps of the dead, and you're left laughing your head off in the Reaperbahn. If any of these things appeal to you then you'll never find a more perfect album.

Tom Waits is basically the only person making music today that can truly say that he's done something interesting with the gift he's been given. In a world full of art-wankers, 80's revivalists, white-homeboys, and whiney emo retards, Tom Waits is the person that all of us can turn to in looking for a REAL alternative form of music. While, yes, Waits mostly draws influence from early sources of musical movements the brilliance lies in that he does so with the ability to somehow make is modern and relevent in the current music scene without questioning the integrity of the original musical form in question.

While "Blood Money" has a certain feel of old vaudville meets decayed cabaret, and "Mule Variations" has the feel of a dirty old farm house filled with rust and shadows, "Alice" is more like floating into a bizarre dream world wherein nothing is as it seems and tends to sway between the frightening and the pleasantly surreal.

"Alice" is essential.

Key Songs: Every Song.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on May 13, 2002
Format: Audio CD
Although he has created several undisputed great works in his career - Rain Dogs, Bone Machine - Tom Waits is a great artist notorious for his uneven albums. True, he has had several semi-conceptual and cohesive efforts - of which Bone Machine would be the prime example - but his albums during the 70's, where he was obligated to deliver an album a year under contract, had many great tracks, though always a few clunkers as well, and his 80's albums were all over the map stylistically - universally great throughout, but containing a wild amalgam of different artistic styles, thereby mocking all attempts at cohesion. Alice - written around the time of Bone Machine in 1992, but only just recorded - is not only Tom Waits's most cohesive album ever, but it is also his masterpiece. Taking its cue from Robert Wilson's play based on Lewis Carroll's legendary obsession with the young and elusive Alice Lidell - forbidden love - Waits creates here a set of songs revolving around the same central theme, while keeping a general momentum and artistic temperament throughout, singing fairly in the same voice, with the same style of music. The album is lovely and lyrical, and quite beautiful. Musically, it foregoes guitars almost entirely in favor of violins, cellos, and horns, and Waits's gentle backing piano. The album starts out immensely with the title track, with Waits waxing rhyming poetic and setting up the story, and showing the vein of music and voice that he will stay in for the majority of the album. The album is tightly focused and engaging. Though a few of the songs are typical Waits rave-ups with him croaking along in his Louis-Armstrong-meets-Kurt-Weil-in-hell voice - Kommienezuspadt, We're All Mad Here, Reeperbahn - most are of a more gentle temperament, with Waits crooning along in his best balladeer voice - though the songs are not exactly ballads. A few are, to be sure, but they can be more accurately described as beautiful narratives. Breaking a bit out of the mold is another in the long line of excellent Waits spoken word pieces, the obsession-laden confession of Watch Her Disappear. Fish & Bird - which seems a bit out of place within the narrative at first, but eventually reveals itself to be the centerpiece of the album - is a beautiful parable about forbidden love that nearly brought a tear to my eye when I heard it. The album closes with the formidable one-two punch of Baracolie, a tender closing ballad, and the nice instrumental Fawn. Though I might not go so far as to say that this is the best album Tom Waits has ever made, it is certainly the most focused and cohesive. As it stands, it is one of his best and most essential records.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on May 10, 2002
Format: Audio CD
Alice subject matter is dreams, nightmares, and stated disillusionment, also visited in Frank's Wild Years. Tom's lyrics often refer to bones, perhaps as a functional essence, death especially in his latest three recordings, trains and emotional connections to them, and sinking ships and shipwrecks. Alice is one of several plays of Robert Wilson Tom wrote music for. In Tom's theatrical vein he's experimenting more with sounds, especially those of very old instruments. Favored are instruments, sounds, and melodies that are used by circuses and carnivals including pump organs, marimbas, calliopes, tubas, bass clarinets, harmonicas, clarinets, accordions, Stroh violins (violin with horn attachment), chamberlain, toy pianos, bells and gongs. He's also fond of train horns, saws, singing through a megaphone, and using recording techniques that distort and distress the sound.
In Alice, a certain resignation is present in Tom's vocal delivery to a particular predicament in life, regardless of how hard the music's/story's characters try to change. At times, Tom struggles with hitting lower and higher notes, his voice in this range turns whispery and thin.
I'll state, unequivocally, that I find Alice to be one of Tom's best recordings to date. Much of Alice is in slow tempi I find languid, introspective, deeply felt, lyrics clever and poignant, melodies absolutely compelling, and musical treatments deeply moving.
My observations and thoughts on the songs:
Alice: ballad--musical treatment is fairly similar to Tom's earlier style of ballads, something of the sensibilities of Murial, in the use of saxophone obbligato and in the character of the melody, and Saving all my Love for You, in the use of that bell in the ballad. Ballad jazz cliche ending to Alice when Tom sings "There's only Alice" strikes me as a bit sarcastic." Tom croons "and by skating it twice, I fell through the ice, of Alice".
Everything you can think: moderately slow--Slow train whistle lacking the life of Black Rider's train whistle announces the song, very distorted ensemble throughout, Tom's announcer's bark character describes bizarre fantasy world. Train sound ends the song.
Flower's Grave: ballad--Tom accompanied by low strings while he plays piano and pump organ. He laments that no one puts flowers on a flowers grave.
No one knows I'm gone: slow--lullaby like, hymn like melody. music aural landscape is one of low strings and Tom's poignant voice singing a haunting melody.
Komienezuspadt: one of the few rhythmic and up-tempo songs. It's in German (I think). Has light oom-pah rhythm. Mixture of jazz and German parlor song.
Poor Edward: Stroh violin introduces the song. Edward may be the saddest character of any I'm familiar with. He's permanently attached and has to live with, die from, and ultimately be with a hated entity through eternity. Star Trek had a character that had to fight against his likeness through eternity to keep two universes from being destroyed. Edward's fate, however, is worse as the Star Trek character had a cause. For Edward, only predicament. Stroh violin very prominent, tempo slow and rather plodding, Tom struggles with low notes in the beginning of the song. After telling the sad fate of Edward the Stroh violin recalls Edward's melody like a haunting aftermath.
Table Top Joe: Tom's lounge character appears in a New Orlean's style song has no body, only hands, but feels he makes it big-time, but really knows he hasn't. One of the most rhythmic songs with guitar providing the steady pulse and piano complimentary tinkling lines. The bass line is provided by a baby bass. Tom scats a bit at the end.
Lost in the Harbour: Truly. Slow tempo--the instruments lines and harmonies provide distortion to the melody throughout. Tom's voice is rather lost in the instrumentation, the melody haunting. Pump organ, Stroh violin prominent and no percussion, at times instruments double Tom's vocal line, at times at the end of Tom's sung lines play descending notes that are like a sigh. Two interludes of some of Tom's most moving, spooky lost music, seem to represent lost souls in the harbour; dream within the dream interludes. Most powerful for this listener. Tom describes people crying inside, hiding their tears, afraid of themselves, and that he'll join them, he'll be ready soon.
We're all Mad Here: melody spins around a few notes, marimbas and other percussion form the rhythmic pulse along with pizzicato (plucked) strings, instruments play snippets of melody Another fantasy nightmare, this one examines the mental condition of the inhabitants.
Watch Her Disappear: Waits spoken poem, Waits speaks and plays pump organ. Violin and cello accompany him, mostly playing piziccato in somewhat of a waltz feel. Similar delivery to "9th and Hennepin" but lower energy, and really drops down and fades towards the end as Alice dances into the shadow of a black poplar tree and Tom states "I watched you as you disappear", a few times while and afterwards the strings play a meandering tune.
Reeperbahn: low energy, slow light oom-pah, occasional subdued banjo lines, Tom's vocal delivery is very resigned and never gets loud and barely sings the melody, bass clarinet underlies the melody at times with its own lines. Violin, turns sentimental towards the ending of song as Tom sings "li, li, le li li li".
I'm Still Here: ballad--the character says pay attention to me. Mostly, Tom and piano, and sometimes the piano is louder than Tom. Strings join later, and clarinet. Very intimate.
Fish and Bird: Love each other, so the sailor says. Can they? Slow tempo--another lovely melody. Crooning Tom's almost getting drowned out by the growing amount of instruments playing as the song goes along.
Barcarole: waltz/lullaby, slow tempo-Tom's voice croons, confessing his feelings for Alice. After the verse a rather eerie atmosphere shift occurs in the form of an interlude and a saxophone plays a jazz solo plays while the piano continues to play the song. The song goes into another harmonic place when Tom says " and the branches spell Alice and I belong to you" before coming back home.
Fawn: instrumental with violin playing harmonics as leading voice. Has Asian sensibilities, is placid and resolves nothing.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format: Audio CD
Last year, in my opinion, John Hammond cranked out the best music of the year with his take on the Tom Waits songbook, the record Wicked Grin. Old Tom showed up for the date, playing guitar and then lending his grizzled voice to the record's final tune. Wicked Grin reminded me that Waits is a national treasure. Who else can break your heart or break your arm all in one song?
Hammond and other singers can take notice, however. Waits has recorded a batch of songs in 2002 that should come with a warning. Don't try this home. You'll hurt yourself.
Alice arrives with strings and saxophones instead of the junkyard toys of his other recent efforts, but this isn't Tom Waits circa 1975. For one, his voice has never sounded more wounded, and if you'd believe it, more beautiful. The song I'm Still Here sounds like Tom's skating alone around a dark, frozen pond to the accompaniment of elegaic piano, violin, cello and clarinet. What hasn't changed in Waits' music is his ability to create characters like the man-without-a-body (Tabletop Joe) and the man-with-a-woman's face on the back of his head (Poor Edward.) Most memorable of all is a skater in the title track. In that song, a man relates his obsession with a girl by tracing her name into a frozen pond until he falls through the ice.
Other singer-songwriters could die with satisfaction if they could produce something like Alice, but Waits has outdone himself in 2002 by putting out this record and the equally-fine Blood Money. Both can strut and scream and then sing you a tender lullaby. As Waits sings, "nothing's yours to ever keep," but for a little while we can listen and love and rejoice for Old Tom is back again.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 1, 2007
Format: Audio CD
ALICE is beautiful. I don't know about the woman...but the album certainly is. Are you familiar with some of Salvador Dali's more surrealist paintings? ALICE is beautiful in that sense--not necessarily physical perfection as atmospheric perfection.

Written and produced with wife Kathleen Brennan, ALICE tells a story--a sad, depressing, disturbing story, but a good story nonetheless. The songs are mostly somber--I don't reccommend listening to this album all the way through, at least not on your first go-round. I know, you probably think that would defeat the point, but it doesn't. In fact, it'll keep you more interested. Otherwise, you'll probably start to wonder just what the hell is going on, who is Alice, why does this man have a face in the back of his head, and how could a bird fall in love with a whale in the first place? It's all metaphorical, of course; but as in Carroll's Wonderland, nothing is what it seems. ALICE is an atmospheric delight, but I reccommend keeping a light on while listening to it. And maybe some tissues nearby.
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