“Behemoth.” The word always calls to mind Steven Wright’s Super Sounds of the 70’s enunciation about a Monster Truck en-route to town. Orphans is just that. Leave it to the King of the Outcasts to devote 3 Dd’s worth to B-sides and outtakes from his career and make it a raging success. Waits has always sang as/for/about the lonely drifter trapped in the wrong time, wrong bar, wrong relationship so he divides this collection up into Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards.
Orphans at first glance seems like overkill, but works as a vital part of Waits’ career. The Brawlers disk hints at castoffs of recent efforts from a raspier and funkier Waits, “2:19” and “Lucinda” being two that could have worked on Real Gone. Ramones covers are mixing with a few old timey blues remakes and folk standards. “Bottom of the World” paints a lyrical dizziness around a mandolin but the crushing standout on Brawlers is the musically serpentine, lyrically bleak “Road to Peace."
His inner freak show carnival barker greets the listener on the Bastards disc. “What Keeps Mankind Alive” starts Bastards of proper, which as a whole is comprised of spoken word bits along with the bizarre pieces of song. Flashes of Kerouac poems (”Home I’ll Never Be”) blast in and out wearing different forms, rambles about family cars (“The Pontiac”) continue on that road with humor riding shotgun.
While both Brawlers and Bastards are excellent, the Bawlers disk is an A+. This collection of torch ballads and heart rippers has Waits at his emotional and artistic peak. The swinging desperation of “Long Way Home” is as infectious as “Down There By The Train”’s poetic finality. The black widow tango of “Little Drop of Poison”, the drunken “Goodnight Irene” sing-a-long and the 1930’s smoky private dick saxophone of “Little Man”, all gems…and yet none are the best track on the album, which is an accolade belonging to the down-and-out-devotion contained in “Never Let Go”, where a marching drum meets weeping keys, accordions and a whisky flooded voice championing grizzled love.
Orphans brings to mind Bob Dylan’s The Bootleg Series 1- 3, in that both are career defining outtake albums that give fans a view of the wizard behind the curtain, awakening them to a new level of greatness within the artist. Both collections should be experienced after listeners are more then just casual fans, having already familiarized themselves with the artist’s best known work. Rabid Waits followers (reviewer included) scrounged some of these songs in shabbier quality from various internet sources over the years, but it is a major treat to have them expertly reproduced here. Orphans lives as proof that when it comes to the forgotten, Waits will always remember.