Tom Waits: Bad As Me Review (Four Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are Four reactions, Four impressions, Four Takes on Bad As Me by Tom Waits.
Chris Besinger (STNNNG)
I can’t believe its really been seven years since Real Gone already. How time flies. Not for Tom Waits though. Despite the years Waits seems perpetually stuck in his own time-averse version of Americana, a niche that is easily described in most contexts as “Waitsian.” If you don’t know by now what Tom Waits sounds like by now I am going to leave it for you to discover on your own. Waits’ newest record Bad As Me finds the artist once again growling and crooning over a set of brand new songs. And despite the generally universal acclaim the album has already received (as well as my own Waits fandom) I am only really into about half of the new album. Most of the first half of Bad as Me is decent but somewhat forgettable, with the possible exception of “Chicago” and definite exception of “Talking At The Same Time,” which I had to look up to make sure that, yes, that was in fact Waits singing in a spooky falsetto. The worst of the lot is “Satisfied” with its cringeworthy lyrics and “Hell Broke Luce,” which sounds like Waits made up on the spot. On the flipside I have found that Waits’ sadder side seems to improve exceptionally over time – his ballads ‘Kiss Me” and “Last leaf on the Tree” I would name as amongst his best sad sack blues joints. Overall it adds up to some exceptional, some mediocre and some in the middle. Frankly I’ll take it. Despite bad As me not really tickling me all the way through I am still just grateful that Waits is still out there making records.
Tom Waits has always been an artist that keeps you on your toes, from album to album changing his sound and always mixing and matching his first love of back alley ballads and his penchant for chain rattling, Howlin Wolf inspired folk dirges. On his latest album, Bad As Me, he changes the game from song to song, showing both his tender and introspective side and his massive, earth shaking rock and roll growl, making an unsteady but rewarding LP. Waits is tender and worn on tracks like “Talking at the Same Time,” “Face to the Highway,” “Pay Me,” “Back in the Crowd,” “New Years Eve,” “Kiss Me” and the heartbreaking lament “Last Leaf.” The other half is pure hell and brimstone Waits, lead by the raucous title track and the sinister “Hell Broke Luce.” He is joined by his friend Keith Richards on the album and you can hear his influence on the rootsy “Satisfied” and the wobbly swing of “Chicago.” A listener who is jacked up from the more upbeat material or lulled into tranquility by the slower songs will be quickly snapped back into the reality of listening to a genius chameleon like Waits. His madcat ideas are so exciting to soak in and his style, indebted to many but beholden to none, is a breath of fresh air in a world full of fakers and thieves. After waiting seven years since his last LP and then hearing the bursting waves of material so full of life, one can only hope we don’t have to wait so long for his next LP.
It’s been seven long years since we’ve last heard anything new from Tom Waits and let me tell you this: it’s been worth it. Bad As Me is 17th album from Waits and is all co-written with his wife Kathleen Brennan and features the usual cast of characters we’ve come to expect on a 90s and beyond Tom Waits record: Marc Ribot, Keith Richards, Flea, Les Claypool, etc. Where Bad As Me starts to differ is the programmed elements, samples, turntables experiments and similar have started working themselves back out of the mix into a more classic Rain Dogs era sound.
The records kicks off in a flurry of banjo and horns (not to mention Richards on guitar) with Chicago. “Raised Right Men” is pretty standard fair for a post-90s Waits, punctuated by sharp stabs of Organ. “Talking At The Same Time” is a wonderful piece of hazy jazz noir hearkening back to the Rain Dogs era which fades into the souped up Eddie Cochran rock n roll of “Get Lost”. Waits slows down on a couple of tracks as well, the accordion ballad “Pay Me” and the scratchy record sound of “Kiss Me”. We even hear Waits hitting his heaviest with the metal-esque guitars and stomp of “Hell Broke Luce”. It’s the title track however that is the standout of the entire album with a split personality set of vocals and Marc Ribot’s always fascinating guitar playing.
Bad As Me is the strongest offering we’ve seen from Tom Waits in a few albums and one of the better things I’ve heard all year. It seems that the longer we have to wait (Bone Machine to Mule Variations was the last 7 year break between albums) the better we get.