Bad as Me
Nov 14, 2011 Web Exclusive
Over the course of nearly four decades, Tom Waits has assumed the roles of a rogues’ gallery’s worth of seedy vagabonds, from big top barker to Burroughs-ian busker, beleaguered bluesman to Bukowski-an boozer. Markedly unafraid to look back to past triumphs, Bad as Me is as informed by a long and storied career as it lives exhilaratingly in the present, with Waits devilishly swapping hats between all of his ill-birthed progeny with delirious gusto. Fans of any one period of Waits’ career will find something that meets their tastes.
In “Hell Broke Luce,” Waits is the veteran vagrant, playing shell-shocked witness to an unnamed war, practically spitting an account of the horrors he’s seen over a hopped-up military march and ear-shattering gunfire. The sad, romantic ballad “Kiss Me” welcomes the singer back to the piano bench, his voice an affectation of the bluesy croon from his earliest years. Lead single “Bad as Me” is the album’s carnival-stomper, as hard-rocking a song with a shambling baritone sax backbone as you’ll hear. “Chicago” is a thrillingly frantic opener, marked by cutting guitar contributions from Keith Richards and Marc Ribot. Richards lends backup vocals to the album’s closing number, “New Year's Eve,” a morose vignette that paints a rich family holiday portrait.
At 61 years old, Waits has finally reached an age that seems appropriate for his trademark, gravel-throated voice, though in 17 studio albums he’s rarely sounded as lively as he does throughout Bad as Me. Devoid of any hesitation or pussyfooting, Bad as Me’s 44 minutes feels downright economical after the 72-minute Real Gone. Thirteen songs race forward with the forcefulness of a locomotive; you get the sense that Waits’ begotten hobo is no longer just riding the rails, but knows exactly where it is his freight train is taking him.
At its fiery core, Bad as Me is Waits’ most accessible record in decades; essential not only to his hooked fanbase, but to the uninitiated masses. Waits is stepping out from the smoke-filled brothels and muddy roadhouses he’s occupied since the mid-1980s, dusting off his ripped overcoat and delivering his most penetrable collection of songs since Rain Dogs. (www.tomwaits.com)
Author rating: 8/10
Average reader rating: 8/10