Epitaph – 2002 – 49 & 42 minutes

By releasing two albums simultaneously, Tom Waits has guaranteed that his fans will end up with the same hairstyle he has as they scratch, rustle and try to figure out which is their favourite. And the balance shifts and swings by the hour.

'Alice', based around the author Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell, was originally performed as an operatic piece in Hamburg in the early 90s and features Waits in soulful, reflective mood. 'Blood Money', is based upon the play Woyzeck, the story of a troubled soldier who kills his wife, and has Waits in classic, stomping up and down on a bar-table mode.

Both have their share of classics (in 'Alice's case 'No One Knows I'm Gone', 'Poor Edward', 'I'm Still Here' and the reprobate groove of 'Table Top Joe') but it's 'Blood Money' which proves the wilder ride of the two. With its claret red cover and gurning Waits holding cards and cash, he dives headfirst into the pit of human failings and desires, always sounding as if he unearthed every instrument from a hole at the bottom of his yard.

On the likes of 'Blood Money's 'Misery is the River of the World' ("Everybody Row!"), 'Everything Goes to Hell' and 'God's Away on Business' Waits gives a stunning display of narrative mastery and provides lovers of 1992's 'Bone Machine' with plenty more crusty anthems to kick furniture around their house to. But the fury he whips up here is beautifully offset by 'Alice's more tender moments and both records work perfectly as companion pieces – when you've cried yourself out with the charms of 'Alice' you can curse yourself to sleep amongst the characters of 'Blood Money'.

Weird and widescreen without ever being pretentious, these albums probably won't win Waits any new fans, but his devotees will have quite a few battles with their combs over the next few months.

Harry Guerin

Tracklisting Alice: Alice – Everything You Can Think – Flower's Grave – No One Knows I'm Gone – Kommienezuspadt – Poor Edward – Table Top Joe – Lost in the Harbour – We're All Mad Here – Watch Her Disappear – Reeperbahn – I'm Still Here – Fish & Bird – Barcarolle – Fawn

Tracklisting Blood Money: Misery is the River of the World – Everything Goes to Hell – Coney Island Baby – All the World is Green – God's Away on Business – Another Man's Vine – Knife Chase – Lullaby – Starving in the Belly of a Whale – The Part You Throw Away – Woe – Calliope – A Good Man is Hard to Find