And now for this blog’s first album review:
For those of you unfamiliar with Tom Waits, he’s a 61 year old musician/actor/composer and is basically amazing. He plays piano and guitar, but his voice is one of the main elements that sets him apart musically.
To quote critic Daniel Durchholz, Waits’ voice sounds “like it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car.”
This is a compliment. Keep that in mind.
Waits’ other great musical aspect is that he is wonderfully idiosyncratic in his music and choice of genres. He does whatever he pleases, whenever he pleases, regardless of the world around him.
Before diving into the new album, I recommend checking out these songs from Waits’ highly regarded album, Rain Dogs:
Jockey Full of Bourbon
9th and Hennepin
Gun Street Girl
Anywhere I Lay My Head
Did you listen? Pretty epic yet weird, no? Here’s a fun fact: that album came out in 1985.
Considering what topped the charts in the mid 80’s, it’s pretty astounding that an album like that could even have been created.
26 years go by, and we find ourselves with the release of Waits new album: Bad as Me.
Bottom line: this is a fantastic album. If you liked those selections from Rain Dogs, you may have felt the need to check out the rest of the album. There’s a few other swell selections to be sure, but there’s also a number of slow songs that feel somewhat off. Even after many repetitions of Rain Dogs, I can never quite place my finger on the issue, but somehow those slower numbers just don’t resonate with me. For the lack of a better term, they feel hokey.
Before I continue, though, bear in mind that I’m not bashing all slow Tom Waits songs. For example, check out “Picture in a Frame” from the 1999 Grammy winning album, Mule Variations. Beautiful. End of story.
However, Bad as Me does not suffer from the hokey, slow song issue. It’s the first Tom Waits album that I’ve enjoyed from beginning to end. It’s as though the slow songs lost that unpleasant element and feel more genuine. There could be a number of reasons for this: the addition of a more bluesy vibe, the wisdom/maturation that comes only with age, or perhaps the simplification of certain aspects (instrumentation, lyrics, etc.).
Either way, all of these songs have something going for them as exemplified in the following notes for each track:
- Chicago: upbeat and raw; plus, imagining a 60 year old man screaming “all aboard” like a train conductor is quite a mental image
- Raised Right Men: the percussive droning sound puts you in a mild trance and next thing you know, the song is over, which makes you want to go back and experience it all over again
- Talking at the Same Time: I can’t believe that this Tom Waits singing; up until this song, I’d never knew his voice was capable of such range and tonal versatility
- Get Lost: if you don’t want to dance this one, you might want to check your pulse
- Face to the Highway: one of the songs that could have suffered from the hokey issue from above, but, again, the passage of time and life makes this feel real
- Pay Me: a sad song reminiscent of the horrors of the circus from centuries past (this may or may not be what the song is actually about, but it’s the mental image that I get every time I hear it)
- Back in the Crowd: honestly, this is the one song that I could do without; still decent though
- Bad As Me: Waits likes to use lyrical patterns in many of his songs; this portrays that practice to a tee in an epic rocking fashion
- Kiss Me: jazzy and longing; fantastic
- Satisfied: an homage to (Can’t Get No) Satisfaction by The Rolling Stones; he mentions “Mr. Jagger and Mr. Richards” a few times if the title wasn’t enough of a clue; to top it off, Keith Richards plays guitar on this track (as well as the next two)
- Last Leaf: I wasn’t immediately sold by this song, but the fact that Keith Richards sing backup vocals and plays guitar changed all of that; the fact that Mr. Richards can still sing is just mind-blowing
- Hell Broke Luce: strange but brilliant; another lyrical pattern song; this would receive my vote as favorite track of the whole album
- New Year’s Eve: the fact that he worked Auld Lang Syne into the structure note not just once, but twice, sells this song – hands down
There are also three bonus tracks if you buy the deluxe edition, but they don’t really compare to these 13, so I’ll leave the notes as is.
Lastly, in addition to Keith Richards’ guest appearance, Flea and Les Claypool (and others) play on a few tracks. This versatility of musicians really breathes life into the album and keeps the listener interested from start to finish.
I’ve listened to Bad as Me roughly 20 times through as this point, and I’m only growing more fond of it. Do yourself a favor, give it a try. Tom Waits isn’t for everyone, but you never know: his growling brilliance may just hook you.