Tom Waits
Orphans


4.5
superb

Review

by Sepstrup USER (20 Reviews)
November 26th, 2006 | 53 replies


Release Date: 2006 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Tom Waits has released a surprisingly coherent collection of new and old songs, covers and originals. Orphans is divided into three discs of rocking blues songs (Brawlers), melancholic ballads (Bawlers), and wild experimentations (Bastards).

Tom Waits is widely considered a genius. While he hasn’t achieved any real mainstream recognition (his famous songs were mostly made famous by other people such as Rod Stewart), he can still be considered immensely popular. He has a cult following like few other singer/songwriters, due to his uncompromising creativity and charming personality, which is why he can released a 3-album, 3-hours collection of songs and expect people to buy it. The songs are a strange mix of new and old originals, spoken-word pieces, movie tunes, standards, cover songs, and even a poem put to music. In spite of this, Orphans is quite a coherent collection.

An interesting thing about the album is the division of styles. Usually, Tom Waits albums pull you every which way; as he furiously growls about demons and hell in one track, on the next sings a beautiful lament to his broken heart. This inconsistency in style has been prevalent on most Tom Waits album, and few of his albums have a truly defining sound (Although Alice mostly contains ballads, Kommeniezuspadt, and a few others to a lesser degree, completely interrupts the flow.) His albums are often confusing in their inconsistent style. Orphans, however, offers a defining sound on each disc. Brawlers are the bluesy, rockier tracks, Bawlers are the ballads, and Bastards are the crazy, experimental songs he is so (in)famous for. The division brings to mind Nick Cave’s Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus which focused on his rock songs and ballads respectively.

This is of course to be taken loosely. A few songs could have fit on another disc, but the album titles describe pretty well what you’re in for. ‘Brawlers’ is, as previously mentioned, the straight-forward blues-tracks, subjected to Waits’ whisky-worn voice and unconventional percussion, including human beatboxing, something he began experimenting with on 2004’s “Real Gone”. This is mostly true, although a few stray pretty far from that narrow definition. The non-rhyming “Road to Peace” will no doubt stand out the very first time you listen to the album. Not just because it has great melody and instrumentation, which it does, but more because of the lyrical topic: It’s an unabashed anti-war song, addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Nothing is hidden in metaphors. Consider this:

“Now our president wants to be seen as a hero and he’s hungry for re-election.
But Bush is reluctant to risk his future in the fear of his political failures
So he plays chess at his desk and poses for the press
10,000 miles from the road to peace”


It’s not exactly subtle. This is not a critique though. “Road to Peace” is a remarkable song in the truest sense of the word. It’s extremely poignant and it seems genuinely honest, avoiding the clichés usually plaguing such political topics. Waits sings with as much conviction as ever, and “Road to Peace” is definitely one of the most moving songs he has written. While it of his career is not the sole highlight of the first disc, nothing stands out to the same degree. Worth mentioning, however, is another single “Bottom of the World”, a song about a traveller, who finds himself lost “at the bottom of the world”. It’s a mellow song, Tom’s rather harsh vocals aside. Some might notice the reference to Blood Money’s “All the World is Green”, in which Tom Waits sings, “He’s balancing a diamond / On a blade of grass”, a line which is repeated (although slightly altered) here.

This is not to say that the rockier tracks are not worthwhile. “Fish in the Jailhouse” is a furious, bluesy track, driven mainly by a harsh drum-beat. As the song progresses, the instrumentation builds up with a bluesy guitar and a saxophone. The sparse instrumentation directs the focus to Tom Waits’ singing, which recalls “Big Black Mariah” and “Sixteen Shells from a Thirty-Ought Six”.

“Bend down the Branches” immediately establishes the “Bawler” sound. It is a short, but beautiful ballad, serving as an introduction to the album. “Bawlers” is easily the most accessible of the three discs. It switches between heart-warming and heart-breaking ballads, reminiscing both early Tom Waits tunes and the darker sound of 2002’s Alice. The single from the album, “You Can Never Hold Back Spring”, is a gorgeous, optimistic ballad, “Never Let Go” a grandiose ode to love. Listen to Tom Waits proclaim, “You can send me to hell / But I’ll never let go of your hand”. It's one of the album's best moments. “Little Man”, is a jazzy, barroom ballad (composed by Teddy Edwards). All of them are fantastic songs. Highlights are abundant, and it’s hard to pick a truly defining moment on “Bawlers” (Put a gun to my head and I’d probably say “Never Let Go”). The song writing is incredibly strong throughout the 20 songs, and Bawlers, though it is also the longest, is the most cohesive and solid of the three albums.

However, “Bastards” isn’t meant to be consistent. Spoken-word tracks are plentiful, and each song sounds different from the next, though Tom’s signature demonic growl is prevalent in most tracks on the album. The very first track “What Keeps Mankind Alive” isn’t even a Waits original, but remains one of the best songs the “bastard” side of Tom Waits has ever recorded. The songs sound like the wildest songs from Mule Variations and Bone Machine. A spoken-word piece, "Children's Story", is a twisted bed-time story about a child who's all alone in the world. Also worth noting is Tom’s reading of “Nirvana” the Bukowski poem. It’s a wonderful track and although that should mainly be attributed to Bukowski, Tom Waits’ expressive voice suits the poem perfectly. One of the wildest tracks on the album, “King Kong”, is driven by a human beat-box and a roar rivalling the King itself. No song uses Tom Waits’ beat-box experimentations better than this. Closing the album are two unlisted skits, showing off his offbeat sense of humour, ensuring that “Orphans” covers every aspect of his personality.

Although covers appear frequently on the three-disc collection, you wouldn’t notice if you hadn’t heard them before. Tom makes the songs his own, and nothing here really sounds out of place. He is one of the rare old artists who isn’t past his prime and continues to rival his best work with new releases. Few of his albums show the diversity of his song writing and vocals as well as this. “Orphans” is essential for Tom Waits fans, as perhaps his career’s best demonstration of his creative persona. 54-tracks might be a bit much for someone just beginning the journey through Waits’ catalogue, but Orphans should be one of the first stops along the way.



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user ratings (278)
Chart.
4.2
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
Zmev
November 26th 2006


983 Comments


I want this. Real bad.

Two-Headed Boy
November 26th 2006


4527 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I need this. I'm not even kidding, if I don't get it something will get punched.

Jawaharal
November 26th 2006


1832 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Its so very good. I've listened to it at least 7 times all the way through since I got it.

Iluvatar
Staff Reviewer
November 26th 2006


16089 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

This is the first time I ever really tried to get into Waits. I was floored.

Zebra
Moderator
November 26th 2006


2647 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Bawlers is the best disc followed by Brawlers, Bastards is the weakest of the three but it's still very solid. I don't listen to all of the discs at once because they are so different from one another. I didn't think Waits would be able to produce such a quality triple-disc album since most double-disc albums are crammed with filler but this is a completely different case.

Scuba_Steve
November 26th 2006


46 Comments


I'm so happy I didn't open this up and see some crazy track by track review.


Good review though, I wish I wasnt getting this for christmas so I could just get it now

Zesty Mordant
November 26th 2006


1196 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Like Iluv said, this album, for me, is also the first time I really dug Waits. I've tried before but it never really clicked with me.
My only complaint with this album is that, at 3 discs, its a little more than overstuffed.

The Jungler
November 26th 2006


4827 Comments


I've never really heard any Waits, but I've heard many a good thing about this record. Is this a good starting point?
Fantastic review.

Zebra
Moderator
November 26th 2006


2647 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Get Rain Dogs as soon as you possibly can. It may take some time to get into but it's pure excellence.
On second thought this wouldn't be a bad starting point but do you really want three discs from a songwriter you have never listened to?

Iluvatar
Staff Reviewer
November 26th 2006


16089 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

I got into it easily, and I had only ever heard maybe 4 or 5 songs by Waits in full. Brawlers was the only disc that I didnt immediately love, and I already find it to be amazing.

team7disorder
November 27th 2006


40 Comments


gotta get this in some form or other soon. my dad is a massive tom waits fan so this is definately on hus christmas list. might download it and have a sneeky peak. all in all good review and everyone hail the greatest wordsmith and musician in the world. tom waits.

CheckersOnMyShoesYo
November 28th 2006


215 Comments


Tom Waits is a musical genius. I really want to get this.

Sepstrup
November 28th 2006


1563 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

It's highly recommended. I've seen nothing but positive reviews of this album.

halfdeadhippo
December 9th 2006


52 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Does anybody else hear a similarity between "Road to Peace" and "Trouble Every Day" by the Mothers?

Iluvatar
Staff Reviewer
December 18th 2006


16089 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

"Long Way Home" is such a brutally good song. I thought this album would lose appeal but its chugging along quite nicely.

AnyColour74
December 19th 2006


1054 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This album is so pure, it never gets old. I've got to agree with Iluvatar about Long Way Home, what an awesome song.

Eliminator
December 19th 2006


2067 Comments


"Two Sisters" is the best song.

Sepstrup
December 20th 2006


1563 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I think Never Let Go is the best song. This album is so surprisingly excellent.

Jawaharal
December 20th 2006


1832 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Home I'll Never Be, Return Of Jack And Judie, and King Kong are favorites right now.

Sepstrup
December 20th 2006


1563 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

King Kong is pure awesomeness. There are so many magnificent songs here, it's a little mind-boggling.



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