Sound — 8
When Robert Wilson decided to stage Georg Buchner's play "Woyzeck," he could not have chosen a better composer than Tom Waits. This album is Wait's renditions of the songs he wrote for the score. The play, from the 1830s and one of the first examples of Modernism, follows the eponymous German soldier who, subjected to medical experiments and suspecting his wife of infidelity, slowly goes mad and is driven to murder. Hardly cheery stuff, but it's gold to Waits. He fits his odd, discordant but somehow cohesive sounds into a dark, disturbing, and affective score, alternately terrifying and tender, heartfelt and horrifying. Coupled with Wait's raspy roar, the end effect is that of being brought into Woyzeck's mind, feeling his madness. Again, Waits defies classification into genre. It's kind of folk, it's kind of rock, but not really. There's even his take on a tango. It's not immediately accessible, but none of Waits is.
Lyrics — 10
As with every other album he's made, the lyrics take front and center. The witty wordplay, the heartbreaking poetry, the disturbing images all hearken back to earlier albums; stylistically, it's a cousin to "Bone Machine" and "Real Gone." The storytelling here is perhaps a bit more clear than on Waits' earlier work. Because he's scoring a play from the perspective of the protagonist, the album as a coherent point of view. The radical shifts in Woyzeck's mindset from song to song give the record a dramatic progression, following Woyzeck from hopeful (All the World Is Green) to panicked (God's Away on Business) to betrayed (Another Man's Vine). The structure, much of it due to Buchner, give the album a spine.
Overall Impression — 8
This is an record for already-established Waits fans. The individual songs, for the most part, aren't standouts, but they join together to form a solid album. It will take several listens to get into the story and the music, as it does will all Waits albums, but this one is even less accessible than his other work. Most of this is due to the circumstances in which the album was made; as it's the score to a play, it's supposed to have a story and dramatic progression. Just as you can't take one scene out of a play and find it magnificent but the whole play is stellar, so can't you take just one song and get the whole experience of "Blood Money."