Tom Waits's new album is hard work. It's full of characters who don't seem human, stories that don't make much sense and squawking blues music that's very close to impenetrable. The man himself sounds as unhinged as ever, hollering and growling like a lunatic and imitating various instruments with his whiskey-sodden vocal chords. It may not sound like a particularly appealing prospect - but in fact, Real Gone is one of the most gloriously challenging records you'll hear this or any other year. The man's relentless inventiveness is both astonishing and exhilarating, resulting in a weird concoction of disturbing soundscapes and mind-blowing imagery that's utterly unlike any other contemporary artist. And then, to cap it all, he proves he can play it straight with the haunting ballad 'Day After Tomorrow', the story of a homesick soldier that would have been a classic at any time over the last thousand years. Anyone who thinks there's no originality in today's music scene should listen to this - and realise just how wrong they are.