The Black Rider is a weird album for an artist noted for making weird albums. This might just be his weirdest. Not a regular Waits album, per se, and certainly not a "cast recording" as the listing states, The Black Rider evolved out of the Robert Wilson musical (with a libretto from William S. Burroughs) that Waits wrote the music for. What this album actually consists of are studio versions of some of these songs. It's roughly comparable to the style of Bone Machine, his previous studio album, but it's actually quite different. In fact, this album is unique in the Waits catalog. Though it has 20 tracks, there are only a handful of fully-formed Waits "songs": the rest being instrumentals, songs written with other people (such as Burroughs, who also "sings" several of the tracks), and short interludes between the more major tracks. This makes the album, along with Bone Machine and the recently released Alice, a fully-fledged, self-contained effort with a consistent sound, mood, and set of themes. One wonders how well the scattershot story - something involving the Devil, magic bullets, and lost love - translates onto the stage; as it stands here, the story is far from linear, but the lyrics are pure Waits... and enjoyable on their own. Burroughs actually brings down the songs he contributes to in my opinion - but I'm a Waits fan. This album usually is not mentioned when people reel off the names of Tom's studio albums, and it's easy to see why. I would approach this as a real work of Waits, but separate from his other albums - a satellite, spinning around them, but never quite coming into the same orbit. I've also seen people who regard this as a masterwork and his best album, and, while I don't agree with them, you can see where they're coming from, too. Simply put: not Wait's best album, but one that is unique in his catalog, and that you will want to own if you're a fan - might also be a way to attract non-Waits fans to Waits.