Music Reviews
Tom Waits

Tom Waits

Bad As Me


Tom Waits hits the ground running on Bad As Me with “Chicago,” and it sets the pace for the rest of the record with its cinematic references and frantic pace. It sounds like a chase scene we’ve seen a hundred times, heightened by musical clues until the tension becomes palatable. From there it’s “Right Raised Men” with Augie Meyers providing horror movie Vox organ stabs as Tom bemoans the male condition with typical Waitsian characters: “Gunplay Maxwell,” “Flat Nose George,” and “Ice Pick Ed Newcomb,” men who only exist in ’40s detective novels and Tom Waits records.

Waits has assembled a top-notch band for his 20th record, the first in seven years. Keith Richards and longtime Waits collaborator Marc Ribot, along with Los Lobo’s David Hilalgo, handle the guitars, Flea and Les Claypool share bass duties, and Chicago bluesman Charlie Musselwhite is along on harp. The album features some classic examples of Tom Waits’s fractured mixture of blues, movie scores, and Americana, such as the Captain Beefheart-inspired title cut or the woeful celebration depicted in “New Year’s Eve.” The bittersweet “Last Leaf” is slow and gorgeous, with Waits and Richards harmonizing on a reflection of longevity and loss. Waits turns his attention to current events, such as “Talking at the Same Time” – Someone makes money when there’s blood in the streets – or the chilling “Hell Broke Luce,” a sobering tale of a soldier ground up by the American war machine, watching his friends die and coping with meth. It reminds you of Real Gone’s “Hoist That Rag,” and is one of Waits’s best tunes, his vocals sounding like they are shredding his throat with disgust.

Bad As Me, while being a great record, isn’t on a par with Mule Variations or Swordfishtrombones as being a classic Tom Waits album, and part of that can be attributed to the decision to master the record for computer speakers and iPods. I have the vinyl for this, and where his previous LPs can sound astonishing – remember, Tom Waits knows what to do with sound – this record sounds over-compressed and lifeless, almost as if you were listening in another room. But even so, any new Tom Waits is cause for celebration, and Bad As Me triumphs as another excellent example of the one, the only Tom Waits.

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