Tom Waits’ Bad as Me: notes from the first listen

Anyone who knows me, knows Tom Waits.  Like it or not, they have all been subject to (too?) many late night (one-sided?) conversations about the man, the myth and his music.  Closing the bar with Martha and San Diego Serenade, continuously rotating Mule Variations on the turntable in my little apartment in San Francisco, following the Glitter and Doom tour from Phoenix to Atlanta, and working my way from Closing Time to Real Gone at least a few times a year are just a few of the many ways I show my respect for the greatest artist in my time (mind?).  So you can imagine my excitement for the first album of all new material in over 7 yearsBad as Me will solidified its spot as the album of the year on October 25th, but the listening party starts today.  Here are my initial thoughts on Tom Waits‘ latest masterpiece.

Chicago – Brass.  Horns. Waits’ gasoline vocals. ‘maybe things will be better in Chicago‘  Maracas.  Bluesy number.  ‘all aboard‘  Sounds like something from the prohibition era.

Raised Right Men – Blues.  ‘it takes a raised right man to keep a happy hen‘  A lot going on in background.  Can picture Waits’ banging away on obscure instruments in his workshop.  Stomping his feet to the beat.  Makes you want to snap your fingers and twitch and contort yourself into alignment with the fractured blues coming your way.

Talking At The Same Time – Loses the rasp for a falsetto.  ‘all the news is bad, is there any other kind‘  Piano keys pepper the old fashion number.  Horns.  Cannot recognize the other instruments.  Slower one.  ‘everybody’s talking at the same time‘  Stand-up bass?  Always amazed at the range of his voice.  A real ‘old fashion’ theme to this album so far, which isn’t surprising.

Get Lost – Back in carnival mode.  ‘I wanna go get lost‘  Reminds me of Lie To Me.  His Elvis-on-acid persona.  Electric guitar.  Percussion.  Lots of horns again.  Really is a brass driven album.  ‘think about what’cha gonna tell your boss

Face To The Highway – First true ballad.  Clearest his voice has been in a very long time.  Still signature Waits’, but almost sounds like those transition years.  ‘I turn my face to the highway and I turn my back on you‘  Simple strings, electric guitar and light stomping.  ‘I’m gone away,  I’m gone away, I’m gone away‘ continuing the ‘I wanna go get lost‘ theme from Get Lost.

Pay Me – Another ballad.  Clear vocals again. ‘they pay me not to come home…keep me stoned‘  Accordion.  ‘I gave it all up for the stage‘  Sounds like it could have been on Frank’s Wild Years.  ‘all roads lead to the end of the world‘  The hard life and lonely death of an entertainer.  My favorite so far.  Strings and simple piano keys.

Back In The Crowd –  One of two songs that has been released already.  A classic ballad.  This is one of those tracks you could picture being made into a Top 40 hit by someone with a voice that is not Tom Waits.  A real Spanish feel to it.  Singing from his throat again.  ‘take back your name, take back these wings, take my picture from the frame and put it back in the crowd‘  Another favorite.

Bad As Me – Harsh percussion.  Megaphone Waits.  Continuing the abrasive Real Gone material.  One of the many attributes that makes Waits’ so unique, but not my favorite style.  Some spoken word in between the singing(?).  Very theatrical.  ‘you’re the same kinda bad as me

Kiss Me – This is another one that sounds like it could have come from a much older album. Very lo-fi.  Static.  This ballad could have been recorded live for Nighthawks at the Diner in 1975.  ‘I want you to kiss me like a stranger‘  Piano and stand-up bass.  ‘everything was thrilling because nothing was the same‘  This is classic 70’s Tom Waits.  New favorite?

Satisfied – Horns.  Claps.  Manic street preacher is back.  ‘my skull be’a home for the mice…huh!…I’ma moth in trainin’…flutter by…huh!….when I’m gone‘  You can picture his arms twitching and his hands waving as he performs this live.  Another hand clapping, feet stomping hootenanny.  Leaving again, but this time he is going to find some satisfaction before he goes.

Last Leaf – Acoustic guitar ballad.  ‘I’m the last leaf on the tree‘  Instantly heartbreaking.  A duet?  With himself?  No.  Who is that?  I don’t know, but this is a gorgeous song.  An autumn companion to winter’s Hold On.  Just looked it up, it’s Keith Richards singing with him.  Who better to sing about survivors?  Damn!  Amazing song.  Probably the best.

Hell Broke Luce – Industrial.  Clapping, but not in a happy way.  Almost militaristic.  Yes, this is about war and soldiers.  ‘that big fucking bomb made me deaf‘  This is a dark one.  ‘left right, left right‘  A metal riff.  This is completely different than anything I’ve heard from him.  Stories from soldiers point of view — everything they have lost.  Powerful and frightening as I’m sure it was meant to be. ‘body bags full, face scorched, want to go home…my porch‘ Machineguns come in.  I’m not going to be able to listen to this one much.  ‘I never got to vote, I left my arm in my coat‘  Damn. Pretty powerful. Reminds me of Hoist That Rag, but really is different from anything he’s done before.

New Year’s Eve – The storyteller is back.  A little Spanish flavor in there. Waits’ paints a perfect portrait of family around the holidays — being back home and all the good, bad and ugly that comes along with that.  A portrait that he only occupies for a short period of time before ‘leaving’ once again.  ‘leaving in the morning…for Las Vegas and I didn’t have a plan to come back‘  Ends with Auld Lang Syne.

Yes, another masterpiece from Mr. Waits.  The overall theme of ‘leaving’ has me a little worried, but let’s not worry about that right now..let’s spin it again!

  1 comment for “Tom Waits’ Bad as Me: notes from the first listen

  1. Bennyboy
    October 17, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    Fantastic initial review/comments – thanks. You have really communicated your passion and love for the great man and his art. Hope you have a ball with this new long player.

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