I'm a fairly recent convert to Tom Waits - my best friend gave me "Alice" for my birthday last summer, and although it initially horrified and repulsed me, I couldn't stop listening to it for months. After the first week or two, though, I realized "Alice" was destined to become one of my favorite albums and Waits one of my favorite musicians. And so it's continued.
I've listened to about half of Waits' catalog now, spanning his earliest to latest work, and I have my own favorites. I love each of his different 'periods' in different ways. Yet somehow, I've found "Frank's Wild Years" his hardest album to penetrate so far. Part of the problem lies in the fact it was never intended as just an album - it's the score to a stageplay. So is "Alice," but at least with that one, you know everything connects (albeit peripherally) back to Lewis Carroll's story. With "Frank," it really feels like we need to know the story to understand the songs. Much of what Waits sings, especially in-character as Frank, is unusual and hard to listen to without giving it your full attention. This isn't a good album for putting on after a long, hard day, or fot a late-night drive in your car. It takes more dedication than that!
That said, there are some gems here: "Yesterday is Here" and "Cold Cold Ground" are both excellent; "Temptation" (despite Waits reaching the ear-splitting high end of his range) and "Telephone Call to Istanbul" are pretty good, too. I've got to say, though, that "Innocent When You Dream (78)" is one of Waits' best and most absolutely heartbreaking songs. For that alone, the CD is worth it to me. "Frank's Wild Years" isn't the easiest Waits to get into, but it's a great challenge if you're already a fan.