Tom Waits, The Black Rider
A goldmine for those who dig Waits at his doomiest
The first of three collaborations with avant-garde theatre director Robert Wilson — Alice followed in 1992, Woyzeck a decade later — The Black Rider also plays off Waits’s lifelong fixation with the Beat poets (see Foreign Affairs‘ “Jack & Neal/California Here I Come”) by throwing William S. Burroughs into the mix. The carny barker of “Lucky Day Overture” is a demonic cousin to the fast-talking pitchman of “Step Right Up,” which is part of the problem. Waits seems at times to be performing himself, intensifying previous personae to the point of self-parody but not staking out new territory of his own. The songs, which would have been spelled by Burroughs’ dialogue on stage, run together on record, their Germanic overkill growing almost oppressive over the long haul. For those who dig Waits’s at his doomiest, The Black Rider is a gold mine, but the rest will wait in vain for a second act.