‘the autumn took the rest but they won’t take me’

Tom Waits – Bad As Me
(ANTI-, 2011)

Tom Waits is back with an album of all original material, the first such album in over 7 yearsBad As Me could not be more different than 2004‘s Real Gone in terms of sound; this is a much more accessible body of work.  It’s a lot less harsh (with the exception of Hell Broke Luce), but when has the enigmatic entertainer ever followed any sort of pattern?  If you ask him, this album is ‘Studly vibrato. Songs of broken trust. The riddle of death in the face of war.‘  If you asked him again a few minutes later, you will get a completely different answer.  Mr. Waits prefers to do his talking through his songs, although his riddle and nonsense filled interviews are always an entertaining read.  The one thing Bad As Me has in common with the decades of work that came before it are the songs chalk-filled with outsiders and outcasts, brawlers and bastards, people on the fringe of society and the even stranger people who are in the center of it.  Tom Waits is a marionette; a Frankenstein of personality creation.  Drug addict family members coming home for the holidays, meth head amputee soldiers, aging rock stars and those in love and those on the run from love…they are all represented in this carnival of characters.

I’m sure any Tom Waits fan would agree, Bad As Me was well worth the wait.  Ballads, blues explosions, waltzes and whispers.  Gasoline guzzling gruff vocals, falsettos and even some relative ‘clean’ vocals.  There are songs that are so original they sound like nothing you’ve ever heard, from Waits or anyone else, and then there are songs that would not sound out of place on Nighthawks at the Diner or Frank’s Wild Years.  Waits wanted to include 19 tracks, but Kathleen convinced him to only include 12 get in and get out‘.   This was sound advice in our era of instant gratification, but what makes me sleep better at night is knowing there are more songs out there.  If you listen closely, there is an overall theme to this album…leaving.  If you read into it too much, you might think there is a message here.  But knowing there was enough material for 19 songs makes me think there is another album out there, and maybe we won’t have to wait close to a decade to hear it.

My personal favorites are Last Leaf and Kiss Me.  The former being a story of survival with none other than the ultimate survivor, Keith Richards.

I’m the last leaf on the tree
The autumn took the rest but they won’t take me
I’m the last leaf on the tree

A perfect ballad for this time of year, as well as a promise that this living legend ain’t going anywhere any time soon.