Tom Waits is back, and he's a little hard to love. The man capable of writing a ballad as fragile as a convict's conscience just wants to make the sonic equivalent of a dirty bomb. The result is an album full of wicked foot-stompers, riddled with minor-key buzzmuffle and drenched in blood. "She's so dead," he sings on "Dead and Lovely," one of the album's sweeter songs. "She's so dead forever." But violence and musical experimentation do not a Rain Dogs make. Waits' spooky-clown routine gets boring after a while, and Real Gone comes off as a poor man's equivalent of that brilliant 1990 album. It even features a spoken-word track, "Circus," about twice as long and half as harrowing as Rain Dogs' "9th and Hennepin." Songs like "Green Grass" showcase the Waits we love and miss; a wordsmith with a wild hair for the beautiful and grotesque, a man who hears symphonies in the clatter and crush of the junkyard. It's just that sometimes he turns that trash to gold; and sometimes, it's just trash.
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