Tom Waits ‘Bad As Me’ : album review

Tom Waits new song 'Bad As Me'

why can't all music sound like this?

Tom Waits
‘Bad As Me’
(Anti Records)

We managed to get a sneak preview of this album by dubious means which cannot be disclosed but was as darkly surreal as a Waits song.

A new Tom Waits album is an event and his seventeenth outing released after a few years is no let down. It starts with the gravel voiced troubadour yelling ‘all aboard’ and instantly you are transported into his fantastically surreal world of strange characters, pounding rhythms and clanking sounds as Waits hollers about a magically seedy underbelly of a long lost America of tattooed tear brawlers, snake oil charmers, broken hearted losers and faded grandeur, a world of seedy dance halls and long lost smoky bars.

The songs are, as ever, of the highest standard- squeezing melody from the stoniest of terrains, finding heart breaking tunes in the most clanking of soundscapes, there is dark humour and hollering blues, heart breaking ballads and zig zag wandering blues madness. Waits is king of all he surveys, every song is 3D, a movie on it’s own, close your eyes and you’re on a trip.

His whole musical career has been in reverse. He started respectable, almost a middle aged crooner and has become more childlike, more brilliant as he has gone on. He has got a crack team of players around him who give every song that spook, that flavour and twist. In addition to longtime sidekicks such as guitarist Marc Ribot and bassist Larry Taylor, Keith Richards as well as keyboardist Augie Meyers. Richards’ guitar raunch shows just how much we miss the Stones when they are inspired and Meyers spartan keyboards mesh with Waits’ bruised vocals and desperate narratives from the seamy side of life.

There is a sense of speed and urgency about the record, mortality maybe cranking Waits mojo, maybe these end times are giving the muse an adrenalin rush and this urgency only adds to the album.

The album starts straight into first gear beginning with ‘Chicago’ a stomping, straight into the heart of the matter rumble. The production is clearer than on recent releases, the great loveable Victorian fog of murkiness has been lifted like a fog and although that murkiness is part of the Waits smoke and mirrors it’s interesting to see what goes on underneath the stones.

The rest of the tracks come thick and fast, ‘Hell Broke Lose’ tumbles through typically great lyrics that evoke stark landscape imagery whilst, ‘Raised Right Men’ is horror show slashes of bubonic organ,
He yelps like a rockabilly hellcat on ‘Get Lost’, the single ‘Bad As Me’ is Screaming Jay Hawkins brought back to life and there is a banshee falsetto and duelling Duane Eddy on something strange guitars on ‘Talking at the Same Time’, ‘Pay Me’ recalls the Pogues at their most gap toothed and loose whilst ‘Hell Broke Loose’ is strident and terrifying whilst “Last Leaf” has the people’s pirate Keef Richards joining Waits in a broken-down, gap toothed duet from particularly overgrown corner of a New Orleans graveyard.

Every one of these songs sounds like it could be a film on it’s own. They drip with imagery and ideas that someone like David Lynch could turn into a series of weird and wonderful films. Wonderful.


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19 comments on “Tom Waits ‘Bad As Me’ : album review”

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  1. I, for one am very much looking forward to this.

    A few dates in England too much to ask as well ?

  2. Would be great if he toured

  3. This reads exactly like Greg Kot’s Chicago Tribune review, with a few altered turns of phrase. Is this also Greg Kot? I don’t see the name anywhere.

  4. Stupidly excited, and yeah, dates for England/Wales would be appreciated Tom…

  5. John,
    I know it’s music you’re writing about and you’re trying to convey something that can be difficult to put into words, but ‘horror show slashes of bubonic organ’?
    What the hell is bubonic organ?
    Otherwise, there isn’t much detail about the lyrics or examples that show how the album can ‘drip with imagery and ideas that someone like David Lynch could turn into a series of weird and wonderful films.’
    Unsatisfying, almost sloppy reviewing, for someone as widely-respected and interesting as Tom Waits.

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