Tom Waits never has sounded better, at least in terms of fidelity, than he does on the new, re-mastered versions of Alice and Blood Money – which were released, to much anticipation, on ANTI- Records.
There are good reasons for these revelations, of course, and some of them are so obvious they don’t even need to be stated. For one, yes, yes, musicians have never had the kind of access they do now to add finesse and fluidity to once-rough-edged (relatively speaking) recordings. These “new” recordings, which I’m sure will be gobbled up by vinyl enthusiasts before you’re done reading this review, go a long way to making Waits’ music sound even more bizarrely contemporary.
But Alice and Blood Money, a strange pair of theatrical accompaniments originally released sort-of-together 15 years ago, always have been ripe for this kind of treatment, this careful repeat meditation. They are theatrical in both the literal and figurative senses, and invite that kind of returning attention. And God bless Waits/Brennan for working these over and including them among their new spate of ANTI- re-masters.
On the new LPs, the details are in the forefront – from the rough gravel of Waits’ voice on the epically wicked “God’s Away On Business” and the weeping chamber orchestration on “Poor Edward” to the vibes on “Everything Goes To Hell” (a Partchian dance-anthem for Dante’s seven rings) and the fragile acoustics of “The Part You Throw Away.” Songs like “Everything You Can Think” and “The Part You Throw Away,” in fact, sound completely reinvented, as the little touches of harmonics, horns, vibes or a shipwrecked bass come to the fore. (I found this more the case on Alice, but that could be my Waits playing habits; Blood Money always has been a guilty favorite, despite the legendary bootleg status of Alice.)
If you’re looking for reasons to claim this music has been reinvented, you don’t have to look very far. The new mixes and masters are beautifully done. “Lost In The Harbour,” once militantly melancholy, now also comes off as slightly deranged. “Fawn,” once slight, now stands on its own, devastatingly sad. On “Table Top Joe,” Waits’ Louis Armstrong bellowing feels ever more the role of showman. “Another Man’s Vine” sounds both boozier and more sinister. Waits’ voice, with this kind of attention to detail, has never hit the mark so precisely. Fidelity clearly goes a long way on these two LPs.
Tracks that were previously giants – I’m thinking largely of Alice’s title track, one of Waits’ best pieces of the last 20 years – hold their own among the new flourishes and even unleash some surprises. Those listening closely will be rewarded.
So, if you’re on the fence about forking over your hard-earned cash for re-mastered outings without outtakes or secret tracks, jump off. This set is worth the investment paid. And the time expended. And, of course, the magic captured.