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). Whichever Waits you prefer 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 ten 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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