In a time of austerity and defunct pop music, Bad As Me came along and cuts through like a bread knife into stale society and bamboozles it into actual listenable audio lunacy.
Tom Waits knew about current society, too – the pre-release trailer videos hinted towards in the rusted out Volks Beetle he resides to promote what to expect and he had to trust that his musical genius was not leaked out – by presenting the vignettes of his tracks for us to enjoy beforehand, especially utilising the preemptive strike listening party…
In his twenty-odd album career, Waits is nowhere near slowing down. His contemporaries may have retired themselves to stagnant acoustics and vegas-showroom residencies, but Waits continues with his sideways view of America, new and busted, reinventing himself yet again in what could be considered another prime-time of his life album. But no, in a reversal of the Madonna reinvention, Tom Waits has traversed all eras in his career to produce this, a homage, a love letter, a modern masterpiece.
I purchased the 2-CD Deluxe Edition, which is presented like a Bukowski poetry chapbook. The photography, which is almost atypical of Waits, is far removed from the barroom troubadour and more isolated Trucker, blurred backstreets, and dystopic viewed through a musty lens, a world that only exists through Waits eyes, his many years making the world seem unreal, a hopeful world that ignores the harsh reality of society. We want something to take us away from that; Waits delivers.
And in no particular order [and why should it be], but starting us off…
Opening track ‘Chicago’ starts like the clattering honkey trains of yesteryear that traverse the crosstown tracks, with the optimism in the simple lyric ‘maybe thing will be better in chicago/to leave all we’ve ever known/for a place we’ve never seen’…what do I expect in Chicago, I’ve never been, but I want to and as an opening track, you can rest assure that it could only be hopeful from this point on.
‘Satisfied’ is a peon to the Rolling Stones, with Keith Richards on guitars, a partnership that served well on previous track but his guitar work is much more evident, if you have an ear for that kind of thing. The accompanying video directed by Jesse Dylan [offspring of one Mr. Bob] is reminiscent of the video of Going Out West a perennial favourite of mine. The mystique of the song is added to with lyrics ‘roll my vertebrae out like a dice/let my skull be a home for the mice’, such wordplay that cements Gillian-esque imagery in your mind. And then just when I was in the mood for some Jazz piano with 1950s styling, ‘Talking at the Same Time’ sets the tone for 2012 – like every classic film I’ve watched recently and thought I wanted the soundtrack too, and this appears…
Forgive my lack of expertise in the entirety of all music ever, but ‘Get Lost’ reminds me of the club jitterbug boogie played by the Weasels from ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ clicking their fingers, loading their cartoon Tommy Guns, fixing for a fight…’turn up Wolfman Jack/please please love me tender/ain’t nothing wrong with that’ ‘Get Lost’ shakes it’s tail feather and stomps its steel-toe cap boots with eclectic electric bass with lyrics like ‘love me tender’ alluding towards Elvis hip swing. Where the album Real Gone was gutteral and Mule Variations was backwaters storytelling, this is fan-friendly and easier on the ear. The balladry plays better compared to ‘Misery is the River of the World’ off Alice as an example of the of the level Waits had been too…on this album, there is an optimism that lifts in the world we live in now.
Title track ‘Bad As Me’, the one Waits promoted through his website, is a instant classic. And for the sake of it, I don’t want to say anything more, you must listen to this song and album yourself!
‘Hell Broke Luce’ is ‘Hoist That Rag’ redux, a political statement screams with gutteral rage about a war, the current war…and the problems soldiers face with a diseased Bush administration leaving this aftermath… ‘a humvee mechanic put his kevlar on wrong/I guarantee you’ll meet up with a suicide bomb,’ and ‘listen to the general every goddamn word/how many ways can you polish up a turd.’
I may know a lot or very little of Tom Waits, but the man has served to inspire my life. From his interest in Bukowski to mine, his dress sense that I gleaned from the Jim Jarmusch films ‘Down By Law/Coffee and Cigarettes’ [search and watch] and his music sensibilities that inform my rather manic tendencies, like I found a home in an icon. And his music may be hard on the ears, especially if the first ever song you hear is Misery is the River of the World’, but don’t let that stop you.
Bad As Me got me excited as a completely new release from Mr. Waits that didn’t fail or falter in anyway, like some of the difficult second albums, or ‘Great American Songbook’ everyone seems to be spouting forth these days – yes; you Rod Stewart…and he’s English! And it may be many months after release that I review this, but sometimes, like a good whiskey, it needs time to work it’s full magic on you.
Ignore the charts, as the charts did with this, and listen.