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Album Review
Bad As Me

Bad As Me
by Tom Waits


Review Date
31st October 2011
Reviewed by
Ricardo Kerr

For my money Tom Waits is one of music’s greatest storytellers. Every tale of barroom saints and hookers with hearts of gold draws the listener one step closer to believing that they have seen these things. When Waits was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame earlier this year he left us with a strange pearl of wisdom; “They say I have no hits and that I'm difficult to work with... like it's a bad thing”. In the wake of this enigmatic comment arrives Waits’ seventeenth album, Bad As Me, a difficult album that will most likely yield no hits. The seven years since his last proper studio album (the impeccable Real Gone which was followed by a three disc odd-and-ends collection Orphans in 2006) have done little to dampen his prodigious belly fire. He can still play an angel when called upon to do so, but he plays an even better devil - kind of like he did in the underrated Terry Gilliam film The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus.

Things start as one might expect given his propensity for gutsy, ramshackle blues dominated by Tom’s unmistakable hollering. Opening song “Chicago” is sharper than practically any living bluesman could hope to make these days. The horns and harmonicas twitch and stomp along to the itchy rhythm. “Talking At The Same Time” offers up something not heard from Waits since the 70s: a haunting falsetto. The nocturnal surf guitar courtesy of Marc Ribot (Elvis Costello, T-Bone Burnett) evokes the dusky diners that Waits made his name in. Also along for the ride playing on the album is Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Les Claypool (Primus), Canned Heat’s Larry Taylor, and the legendary Keith Richards. They even have a go at classic jump blues on “Get Lost” and jazz swagger with “Raised Right Men”.

The title-track is a fantastic summary of who Waits is; a manic carney barker with a tale to tell and a lascivious juke joint jam playing out underneath. And that is exactly what you want from a title-track, a succinct summary of the album in a neat little package. “You’re the same kind of bad as me” he bellows, foolishly confident that anybody could possibly be as bad as him. His voice is at its most unhinged here and it is fun to hear him singing so hard that he nearly loses control completely. Remarkably, things get even darker than this. “Hell Broke Luce” is all hellfire (and a lot of brimstone) and ranks among his scariest tunes to date. What better subject material for this destructive number than the immeasurable horrors of war? “That big fucking bomb made me deaf”, “Get me another body bag, the body bag’s full” he wails like his life depended on it. So much for growing old gracefully, but where is the fun in that? For a man who is known for his withering apocalyptic blues, this song takes the cake and joins this terrible canon with masterpieces like “Earth Died Screaming” and “Starving In The Belly Of A Whale”. Tom has been evil before, but his maddened barks have become truly demonic.

Tom Waits is an absolute treasure of the music world and the ideal archetype for musicians who want to get stranger (and cooler) as they age disgracefully. Bad As Me is more ballad-heavy than most of his post 2000 albums, with songs like “Last Leaf”, “Kiss Me”, and “Back In The Crowd” holding prominent position. On these tracks his sweet sentimentality is so infectious that you can’t possibly say no to them. These moments of tenderness make the rip roaring rockers that much more potent. Any fan of Waits has long been anticipating this album and it will not disappoint. It is a well known fact that bluesmen never die (look at BB King and Chuck Berry) so Tom Waits still has plenty of good years left in him and I can only wonder where and when we will next meet.


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