Tom Waits - album review (3 stars)

Tom Waits

Orphans (Anti)


When the BBC were planning their resurrection of Jackanory, Tom Waits may well have been on the longlist of proposed readers. But maybe they got wind of his disturbing night-time terror ‘Children’s Story’ and revoked the invite. Like some sepia-tinged train wreck, Waits has finally come back into focus since his last product, the piano-free splurge of Real Gone. So, having waited a couple of years for the next Waits recording, three of them trundle at the same time. Orphans racks up at a jaw-dropping 54 pieces long with a couple of missing numbers just in case you were feeling short changed. Split into ‘Brawlers’, ‘Bawlers’ and ‘Bastards’, this is archetypal Waits: growling, groaning and gurning; soothing, screeching and snapping; bluesy, boozy and barking.

Only at one point, does it seem like someone else has infiltrated the scene of the crime. ‘Road to Peace’ has Waits rather ill-advisedly entering the fray of world politics with a horribly cack-handed essay on the woes of the Middle East. On safer ground is his clanking ‘Heigh Ho’ which, rather cheatingly, first appeared on a Disney reinterpretation album in 1988. After a handful of listens, there seems not one single song that would earn a spot in the Waits pantheon beside ‘Burma Shave’, ‘Tom Traubert’s Blues’, ‘Kentucky Avenue’, ‘Tango Til They’re Sore’ or ‘Cold Cold Ground’. Maybe with a solid Abu Ghraib-style programme of round the clock month-long listening, the gems might emerge. For now, Waits has finally lost his sparkle.

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