Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The New Tom Waits Record


Hey, Tom Waits fans. Do you remember the first time you heard "Swordfishtrombones" a little over 30 years ago? I sure do. It wasn't pleasant, but only because the transition from the previous records that featured piano-based, Tin Pan Alley songs about losers and heartbreak, sung by a man whose voice sounded as if he hadn't slept for week to exactly the same thing only clankier and noisier, was less than smooth.  Once I adjusted, maybe two years later, when his masterpiece "Rain Dogs" was released, "Swordfishtrombones" sounded every bit as wonderful as anything I'd ever loved by Tom Waits.

But then things got out of hand. Starting with 1987's "Frank's Wild Years" and continuing on through 2004's "Real Gone," that latter of which threatened to put me off Tom Waits for good, the releases became more unlistenable, with his sandpaper voice now choosing between a moan and a growl if we were lucky, or a megaphone if we weren't, kitchen-sink production, that at times actually used kitchen sinks for drums, and an overall clamor that just made the listening experience not much different than standing next to a traffic jam on the West Side Highway, while construction workers, each armed with jackhammers, tried digging their way to China.

(1999's "Mule Variations" is the exception. A fine record indeed.)

This brings me to "Bad As Me," the new Tom Waits record.

We have a winner!

"Bad As Me" sounds like the record that could have come out right after "Rain Dogs." There are still a few songs, like the openers "Talking At The Same Time" and "Raised Right Men," for starters, that employ the bang, screech and growl attack of the post-"Heart Attack & Vine" Waits albums, but what makes "Bad As Me" so much better is that things no longer "go to 11." Everything, including Tom's vocals, has been toned down. Softened, just ever-so-slightly, if you will. And what has returned in spades is the ability to hear the great stories in the lyrics and the melodies that harken back to Waits' best and most musical.

I love this record. It's the record I've been wanting Tom Waits to release for years. Songs like "Kiss Me" and "Last Leaf," the latter sung with Keith Richards, are slow and effective. These are ballads that hit like a right hook. And how about these lyrics from the title track:

You’re the wreath that caught fire
You’re the preach to the choir
You bite down on the sheet
But your teeth have been wired
You skid in the rain
You’re trying to shift
You’re grinding the gears
You’re trying to shift
And you’re the same kind of bad as me

(Just a personal fave. That's all.)

"Bad As Me" is a pretty damn perfect record.


wardo said...

Good to hear. I've had the same slide with him since Franks Wild Years -- parts of Bone Machine and all of Mule Variations being the brighter spots since then.

jeff k said...

alas, rhapsody doesn't carry it and you can only get thirty-second clips on napster.


Jeff K ... you can hear this on NPR's First Listen


buzzbabyjesus said...

Since I couldn't agree more with what you wrote, I'm betting I'll like it too.

KevinR said...

It's a $5.99 download at Amazon "for a limited time."

Bill said...

Bone Machine holds up really well, and Mule Variations is good all the way through. I think I've listened to Real Gone about three times. And that was just to give it a fair shake. But I really liked the Orphans, Brawlers, Bawlers, Bastards collection. Lots of good stuff on there.

Listening to the deluxe edition of this now. I'm liking what I hear so far.

cmealha said...

I really admire his songwriting ability but I find it extremely unpleasant listening to his voice and can't get past it. Nothing wrong with 'just' being a songwriter.

FD13NYC said...

I agree wholeheartedly. I only like around 3-5 of his songs tops, and yes weird but a good songwriter.

Meanstreets said...

Tom Waits's material, post " Frank's Wild Years " requires work & numerous listenings...much of the time, it is well worth the effort......I love his writing & singing & even his acting....I can't comment on " Bad As Me " yet...
I'm just wondering Sal, how many times did you listen to it in its entirety, before writing the review ?