Sound: 'Orphans' is a three-disc album by Tom Waits, which aims to cover three different sides of his music. Disc 1 (Brawlers) mostly covers Waits' blues/rock pieces. Disc 2 (Bawlers) contains the more slow-paced, ballad-like pieces, and Disc 3 (Bastards) has Waits' more experimental stuff, ranging from spoken word pieces, talking about a Pontiac and a cover of a Daniel Johnston song. 'Orphans' spans 54 tracks, with 2 bonus tracks featuring Waits' musings at a concert and Waits telling a humourous story.
I've tried listening to all 3 discs in one sitting, and whilst it's over 3 hours in length, the quality of the songs are outstanding. 'Lie to Me', 'Fish in the Jailhouse' and 'Road to Piece' stood out from Disc 1. 'You Can Never Hold Back Spring' (on Disc 2) is recorded to sound like something pre-60s. It's slow, features horn playing and Waits' soothing yet still retaining a slight raspy voice. It seems so antiquated, but it works. Disc 2 is definitely a track to sleep to. Every track is slow, and while some tracks might put you off ('Goodnight Irene' reminds me of some Italian influence, this has Waits' 'gravel road' voice being emphasised even more), it is guaranteed to be treasured by all Waits' lovers. Disc 3 contains the 'funny songs' (if I can call them that) such as 'Army Ants', where Waits delivers facts about army ants gathered from The World Encyclopedia. Yet there are some proper songs here, such as 'What Keeps Mankind Alive', and 'On the Road' which features text from Jack Kerouac's novel of the same name. Not all songs here are new, but the arrangement in the order of songs would leave you expecting that there are no old songs if you were hadn't heard them beforehand. This is utter brilliance from Waits to have so many songs, and to make a cohesive yet diverse piece of work. // 10
Lyrics: Tom Waits always writes interesting and great lyrics, and I also must praise his collaboration with his wife, Kathleen Brennan. The characters or speakers in his songs create poignancy, as you come to sympathise with their stories. Waits' characters are portrayed as 'outsiders', 'loners' or 'wanderers' if you like, and this is exemplified in the opening verse of 'Bottom of the World': 'My daddy told me looking back / The best friend you'll have is a railroad track / So when I was 13 said I'm rolling my own / I'm leaving Missouri and I'm never coming home'. 'If I Have to Go' features the speaker talking to his girl that he loves: 'If I have to go will you remember me / Will you find someone else while I'm away'. This line can represent any long distance relationship, and my original interpretation was of someone going to war after reading these lines: 'Tell all the others you'll hold in your arms / That I said I'd come back for you / I'll leave my jacket to keep you warm / That's all that I can do'. There are too many songs to mention, but the lyrics vividly paint an image in your head. It's very easy to imagine the story being told.
As for Waits' voice, he still has the same voice. And a good one, mind you. The juxtaposition of his supposedly 'harsh' voice with the lush orchestration just works. I don't know how to describe it, but it just works. // 9
Overall Impression: This is the complete Tom Waits album in displaying the various genres explored throughout his music career. Tom Waits gets better with age. However, listening to all 3 discs in one sitting can test your attention, as well as 'wasting' your time. If you do have the time though, it's a good way to waste time. Despite this impracticality, 'Orphans' has everything that Tom Waits has been known for. // 10