Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Bad As Me

The album of  2011? It just has to be Tom Waits Bad as Me (released October 21st). As the Rolling Stone review says, the timing of the release of Waits' new album is impeccable. 

TomWaits (born Los Angeles, U.S.A. December 7th 1949) Happy Birthday Tom ! has for decades enacted persona from the underbelly of the American Dream, the dispossessed, down-and-outs, hard drinkers, lonesome drifters and out-of-luck gamblers in the era of the Great Depression, such characters surviving  in dire straits come sharply alive now in the New Depression.

Waits and his extraordinary voice has become a true American phenomenon and a world-wide star; utterly archetypal in his persona, his voice croons, bellows, growls, barks and snarls with characters walking straight out of the pages of a Damon Runyan short story with more than a nod to American literary giants such as William Burroughs, Charles Bukowski and Jack Kerouac. The present state of Waits' voice is show-cased in  Glitter and Doom (2009) recorded live at various venues on tour. A showman in the true sense of the word, Waits has also developed his acting career in several film roles, most recently as the sinister Mr. Nick in Terry Gilliam's metaphysical fantasy, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (2009).

Bad as Me is Tom Waits' 17th  album no less, since his debut recording in 1973. Although essentially rooted in R ‘n’B music, Waits shifts from genre to genre with ease  – from Cuban Salsa to Metal, from Beat poet Jazz monologues to Weimar Republic-style Cabaret, from Vaudeville to Gospel and Blues. His song-writing is a compendium of American music.  I can't think of any other singer/song-writer who has recorded in such a wide spectrum of genres or another singer capable of comparable vocal gymnastics (his vocal range encompasses 7 octaves) with perhaps the exception of the East German opera-trained, one time Punk rocker, Nina Hagen. And indeed Waits performs a Nina Hagen-style number in German on Alice (2002) entitled Kommienienzuspadt.

Bad as Me sees Waits in fine form. Co-written and produced with his long-time partner Kathleen Brennan, the album is the first new collection of songs by the talented singer-songwriter in 7 years. The standard and consistency of each track on the album is high, with fellow R’n’B old timer Keith Richards playing guitar on four songs. Waits’ finger is placed firmly on the pulse of the current zeitgeist in the down-beat, soft-shoe shuffle track-  Talking at the same time.

And all the news is bad
Is there any other kind?
Everyone’s talking at the same time……..
Well we bailed out the millionaires they got the fruit, we got the rind.

While in the stark and harrowing  Hell broke Luce, a psychotic GI shouts -That big fucking bomb made me deaf  and angrily queries of the long ongoing war-

How is it that the only ones responsible for making this mess
Got their sorry asses stapled to a goddamn desk

Waits is not shy of making startlingly theological statements either. Rummaging through his extensive back-catalogue there are several  original Gospel songs notably- Chocolate Jesus, Way down the Hole and  Jesus gonna be hereWhen the producers of the HBO series The Wire selected Waits' song Way down the Hole they  introduced the singer-songwriter's powerful and expressive voice to a world-wide TV audience. As the opening credits of each episode rolled, he wailed-   

When you walk through the garden
you gotta watch your back
well I beg your pardon 
walk the straight and narrow track
 if you walk with Jesus he's gonna save your soul 
you gotta keep the devil way down in the hole.

The title-track of Waits' new album is driven by moral indignation at hypocrisy and self-righteousness and is delivered with venom –

You’re the letter from Jesus on the bathroom wall
You’re mother superior in only a bra
You’re the same kind of bad as me

A useful repost of shared guilt. But Waits in fact, with true artistic temperament, is a bit of a chameleon in his beliefs. On his Glitter and Doom (2009) album, a tour de force in live performance, the gloomy sentiment of  Dirt in the Ground  (We’re all going to be), a song  first recorded on Bone Machine (1992), can be heard.

There are also two tender love ballads on the album,  Back in the Crowd  and the utterly poignant Kiss Me. In addition there's a raunchy rocker number alluding to the Rolling Stones hit, Satisfaction (I can't get no). Waits, in ebullient mood on Satisfied declaring - Now Mr. Jagger and Mr. Richards/ I will scratch where I've been itching. I will be satisfied.

But perhaps the most heart-wrenching of all the songs on this great album is Face to the Highway. Waits, singing in his high-register, using the persona of the lonesome drifter, in typically down-beat mood and with the strong prescence of death, strikes a deep chord. The song will surely become a Blues ClassicAwareness of mortality is also high on the agenda of the light guitar accompaniment of Last Leaf, a real dirge upon passing time with Richard's adding vocals.

Bad as Me is the perfect album for Xmas festivities, for the intimate romantic moment and for rueful brooding hangover's the morning after ! 

Glitter and Doom album cover

Wiki-Link - Tom Waits


Anonymous said...

I think this is up among his best had on ipod since it came out ,but always have one or two of his albums on it as he is such a gifted songwriter every song is like a short story ,all the best stu

Tuirgin said...

Had this the day before it was released thanks to pre-order. Waits is among my favorites. I got to see him live on the G&D tour, 1st row, center, behind the orchestra pit. Brilliant.


Stu, of course we share good taste in music, take care !
Chris, you lucky man, 1st row ! Should have guessed we shared this too. So how do YOU assess his theology ?