Tom Waits’ Alice and Blood Money: pop music’s death metal


There’s very simple orchestration in “Alice,” and that’s part of the attraction; Waits’ narrative, over bass and what is either a soprano sax or an alto in its upper range, sounds like something off Sting’s most dour album, “Soul Cages.”

Waits’ just speaking, not in key (or out) over his music (rather than singing a melody) is pop music death metal–

I.e., where the voice provides imagery and texture, but not melody; the emotional content also presents as genuine, whereas most death/black metal vocals seem to be trying too hard to be scary/evil. It seems like the experiences that death metal try to counterfeit are actually present in Waits’ voice.

Blood Money

Notable lyric, from “Everything you can think of is true” : we were trapped in a flood and red with your blood— another strange one-up to death metal. It’s a disturbing lyric, specifically because it’s underplayed: it’s hard to make out, and it’s not repeated– it’s so casually sociopathic it’s all the more disturbing.

“Everything goes to hell,” in particular, has Charles Bukowski-ish lyrics spoke/sung in key; it’s the best audio representation of Buk, who ironically doesn’t bear up well to hearing– his lyrical content can be utterly bleak, yet his speaking voice is soft to the point of being effeminate. The disconnect is off-putting.

Waits is what Buk sounds like if he actually sounded like his poetry; if his speaking voice matched his narrative voice.

They’re both pretty great overall, but cherrypickers:

Alice: “Alice,” and “Watch Her Disappear.”

Blood Money: “The Part You Throw Away,” and “Calliope.”

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