Wherein Tom Waits cleans out the closet, holds a garage sale and finds the crowd begging for more, more, more. Hence the 26 soundtrack-compilation-etc. familiars and 30 "new" songs that sound like all the old ones, spread over three discs that glibly and ably summarize the career thus far: "Brawlers" (or: the Beefheart-and-blues collection), "Bawlers" (or: the piano's-been-drinking after-hours laments) and "Bastards" (or: shit you couldn't sell by its lonesome 'cause not even the faithful would bite). Which Waits you wait for—and me, I go for the songs Bette Midler would have covered in the 1970s—will whittle down the choices here real quick; it's less an intimidating assemblage than an irritating one, unless you dig the spoken-word ramblings on "Bastards" that sound like a car backing down a gravel driveway that stretches 10 miles long. What Waits doesn't acknowledge, because it'd peg him as a square when he considers himself a rhombus, is that he does his best stuff when he doesn't feel the need to jam his work between the quotation marks of irony and distance; he's no boho throwback, no circus freak, just a hopeful romantic with a heart full of nicotine and arsenic.
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