Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Review Catch Up: Tom Waits - Bad As Me

I think it's a idiotic thing for anyone writing about Tom Waits to say something like "this is his best album since..." because all my friends and I have different favourite albums. My favourite records (Bone Machine, Mule Variations, Small Change) will be entirely different to your favourite three Tom Waits records. While the argument is often made that Swordfishtrombones is his best (and it is great), when it comes to Waits I think it is entirely subjective because a) most of his records are good and b) his voice anchors the songs so it's really what speaks to each individual listener as to what constitutes his best. That being said, call me an idiot because this is his best album since Mule Variations and probably surpasses that record somewhat.

Waits seems particularly inspired on this record and it slows like a otherworldly roadmovie slowly unfolding before you. Between the standard Waits stomp and crow numbers, there is a quiet desperation to the more low key numbers. Much like Midnight Oil who made batter albums in politically conservative times, Tom Waits inner-depression-era troubadour seems to be particularly inspired by the tough times at the moment. He pointedly addresses this on Talking At The Same Time, a light jazz inflected number:

Well, we bailed out all the millionaires
They've got the fruit, we've got rind

Things are grim all over as he sings on the gently desperate Pay Me:

It's nobody's business but mine when I'm low,
To hold yourself up is not a crime here you know at the end of the world

This song also includes the line "the only way down form the gallows is to swing" if that gives you the gravity that centres the record. However, it's not all doom and gloom with a number of jaunty numbers including the Satisfaction baiting Satisfied where he sings "Now Mr Jagger and Mr Richards, I will scratch where I've been itching." Keef plays guitar on the track (as well as a few others) which seems to spur on the Waits crazy. Other highlights include the stomping anti-war grind of Hell Broke Luce and the torch ballad Kiss Me, a tale of two lovers trying to recapture the spark of love after many years together.

Waits always is at the top of his game on Bad As Me as this is a particularly taut set of songs that are focussed, emotive and entertaining. Part carny barker, part lover and part rogue, this album reinforces the uniqueness of Waits as an artist but not at the expense of the music, this is a brilliant album by any measure.


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