Tom Waits' brilliance is messy -- he has so many ideas that sometimes unrealized songs are juxtaposed with moments of greatness on his albums. That may make for the occasional uneven record, but each album has its own distinct tone that makes it a unique listening experience, whether it's a masterpiece or a missed opportunity. And that's the reason why his work, especially his sprawling Island albums, doesn't lend itself to retrospectives like Beautiful Maladies: The Island Years. On the surface, the collection looks promising. The single disc features 22 tracks from Swordfishtrombones, Rain Dogs, Franks Wild Years, Big Time, Bone Machine, and The Black Rider, including such familiar and celebrated items as "Hang on St. Christopher," "Innocent When You Dream," "I Don't Wanna Grow Up," "16 Shells from a Thirty-Ought Six," and "Downtown Train." Some fans might spot missing favorites, but it's hard to fault the selections themselves -- if it weren't for the fact that they all sound somewhat disjointed when separated from the original albums. Because of this, Beautiful Maladies is a little odd -- it's not a bad sampler, but it isn't necessarily a good introduction since the songs don't sound like they belong together. The curious may want this as a sampler, but if you wind up liking Waits, you won't be satisfied with anything other than the original albums.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine