When all the grandpaboys made their death-is-coming-to-get-me albums in the 1990s (Reed's Magic & Loss, Dylan's Time Out of Mind, et al) only one of them didn't go all selfish. Tom Waits told transcendent, cinematic stories set in barns, colosseums, nursing homes, bars and temperamental oceans from the viewpoints of religious alcoholics, hairy-chested ex-cons, embittered nonagenarians, jilted Ophelias and would-be suicides. Waits' wails were lizardly and warm throughout; Bone contains the finest showcase of his Frank-Oz-meets-Francisco-Goya pipes.
Although it's a mystic love song, "Earth Died Screaming" was scary enough to turn the staunchest global-warming skeptic into an environmentalist. No existential ballroom could clear its floor without Ralph Carney's mournful woodwinds accenting "Dirt in the Ground". The myths of Christ, Lucifer, Sleepy Hollow and Johnny Cash blend on the chiller "Black Wings", which suggested that saviors are born out of gossip. Joey Ramone would go on to cover "I Don't Wanna Grow Up", and Waits would go on to outlive the beautiful bastard. If you don't weep to the twilit sendoff "Who Are You", then I must ask who the hell you think you are; of course, the chorus' question could easily be turned on its consummate-actor source. Waits, Beck and Radiohead form the trifecta proving that the "Best Alternative" Grammy can get something right, but only Waits fisted every Yankee idiom into a stain-pocked opera gown.