Bad As Me by Tom Waits
When someone as gravelly-voiced and universally adored as Tom Waits releases his first studio album in seven years, there can’t help but be anticipation. Of course, when someone as gravelly-voiced and universally adored as Tom Waits releases his first studio album in seven years, it can’t help but exceed expectations, because he’s Tom Waits and everything he does is exciting and unpredictable.
Waits has a habit of reinventing his musical style, changing instruments and tone and musicians from one album to the next (and he’s released over twenty.) Bad as Me is interesting because it both revisits and reinvents previous musical ideas: it kicks off with an ominous and original doom-country song in ‘Chicago’, full of banjos and menace and Waits hollering “All aboard!”, then gets into the bluesy ‘Raised Right Men’ which borrows from the sounds of previous album Real Gone. ‘Talking at the Same Time’ is a salty bayou-blues track with vocals smooth as chocolate pie and piano skipping like a stone over water, reminiscent of ‘Blow Wind Blow’ from 1987’s Frank’s Wild Years; next is jaunty rockabilly track ‘Get Lost’, enough to make you get the hell up and dance, even more so if it was played back-to-back with the similarly flat-out fun ‘Lie to Me’ from 2006’s Orphans.
Then, when you think you’re in a happy comfortable zone, revisiting all your favourite Tom Waits musical moments, he throws in something like ‘Hell Broke Luce’, which rocks out considerably and is a standout track—and, unexpectedly, hears him swearing like a trooper with politically-based rage, the first time he’s done so since a moment in Nighthawks at the Diner’s verbal discourse which hears him mutter the s-word. (This is ruder, so rethink gifting this to your great-aunt Mavis.) I could explain my emotional connection to each song, but you should really just hear it for yourself. And there’s three different ways to get your fix, with the release of the regular CD, the deluxe edition with three extra tracks, and the vinyl (which comes with a CD of the full album, too.) I already have two of the three versions, but that’s because I’m tragic.
Though the frequency with which he releases albums waxes and wanes, the creativity and freshness of what he brings out does not. Waits fills his albums with so much to adore: from soft, sensual ballads like ‘Kiss Me’ to the rocky ‘Satisfied’ - which not only references the beloved Stones but stars one Keith Richards on guitar. (Other guests on the album include Flea, Les Claypool, and guitarist/composer Marc Ribot).
Bad as Me will make any Tom Waits fan delirious with joy and hopefully convince the next-door neighbour who usually wishes the walls weren’t so thin that perhaps they should buy it too.
Fiona Hardy sells books and talks too much to customers at Readings Carlton, and puts together Dead Write for the Readings Monthly. She blogs haphazardly about movies and books (and sometimes music) and you can follow her on twitter - @readwatchtweet.