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RECORDS / Rock: Tom Waits - Bone Machine (Island ILPS 9993)

The durability of Waits's music as an upmarket lifestyle accessory is an extraordinary thing, given how difficult so much of it has been to listen to in recent years. His obvious gift for mythic observation and alcohol-mediated melancholy has been shrouded in ever more impenetrable layers of rhythmic density and brutal larynx-torturing over the decade since Swordfishtrombones. The 16 songs here, half co-written with his wife Kathleen Brennan, make up his first proper new work, soundtracks and live fillers excluded, since Frank's Wild Years in 1987. As ever, there are dull moments when you just want to buy him a throat pastille and cancel his subscription to Watchtower, and his new percussive invention, the 'Conundrum', is not an entirely welcome innovation. But there are also several fine semi-ballads, especially 'A Little Rain', in which the now too familiar Waits croak opens out into something new and lovely. And there's a nice gospel tune, 'Jesus Gonna Be Here'. The whole thing ends on a hearteningly up-beat note, with the jug-band swagger of 'I Don't Wanna Grow Up', and a funny duet with fellow unlikely survivor Keith Richards, pointing the way to an oddly unbleak tomorrow.