September 28, 1987 12:00 PM

Tom Waits

This album is made up of reworked songs from Waits’s musical play, Franks Wild Years, which was performed last summer in Chicago, but it is certainly no score for a Neil Simon comedy. In fact the songs share the message of Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh: a drifter’s saga of barroom delusions confronting harsh realities. The musical arrangements are a little thinner than on Waits’s most recent albums, Swordfishtrombones and Rain Dogs, but no less extraordinary. Musically, Franks Wild Years is a cracked potpourri of genres. There are tangos, rhumbas, rockers, drinking songs, carnival strains and work chants, all of them curiously fractured in meter and instrumentation. Despite the limping gait of songs like Please Wake Me Up, the music possesses a fascinating charm. Waits’s most bizarre stylistic experiments are More Than Rain, a lugubrious Parisian lament complete with accordion (it sounds like Edith Piaf 20,000 leagues under the sea), and Straight to the Top (Vegas), in which Waits acidly apes all those cheesy should-be lounge singers (“I can’t let Mr. Sorrow/ Put old Frankie down”). More than ever, Waits’s lyrics are imagistic: “Rusted brandy in a diamond glass/ Everything is made from dreams/ Time is made from honey, slow and sweet/ Only the fools know what it means.” If you give this record even a cursory listen, you won’t be able to get it out of your head. (Island)

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