Tom Waits – Bad As Me

Having been inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame this year and having released 16 studio albums over the last 40 years, to say Tom Waits is a veteran songwriter would be a hideous understatement. This most recent offering, (and the first studio album to feature only new material in 7 years) Bad As Me showcases his full repertoire, bridging tender, Spanish-tinged ballads to full-blown blues growls on war. The album, consisting of 13 individual tracks all of which are unique in their own way, illuminates two of Tom Waits’s greatest strengths: vocal adaptability and lyrical prowess. While it is more a collection of individual yarns rather than an exploration of an overall theme, there are no jarring transitions and each song packs a punch of refreshing energy and soul. Opening the show is “Chicago” with quick-paced tempo and a healthy dose of horns, combined with the spitting bark that’s so characteristic of Waits’s voice, exploring the idea of striking out, wondering whether “to leave all we’ve ever known / for a place we’ve never been.” The idea of being on the move becomes a recurring theme, alongside tales of failed relationships. “Face To The Highway” combines both, where Waits sings of sacrificing love for being on the road; “the road wants a man / I turned my face to the highway / and I turned my back on you”.  The 61-year-old singer also reflects on age in “Last Leaf,” a beautiful ballad about the resilience against moving on, “I’m the last leaf on the tree / the autumn took the rest but they won’t take me”.  It’s not all doom and gloom though, there is humour on the album as well. The title track feels like an exaggerated caricature, with overemphasized ‘huhs’ and a psychotic voice over at the end of each chorus, “no good you say / well that’s good enough for me”. “Satisfied” is a shout out to Keith Richards who is featured on the album. Even the intense recount on war in “All Hell Broke Luce” feels like an anecdote told in jest,  “that big fucking bomb made me deaf, deaf.”Musically, Bad As Me is perfectly constructed, each song designed to let Waits’s expressive tone shine through. His vocal proficiency at adapting his voice to suit the mood is clearly evident in “Talking At The Same Time”, where his warm falsetto was so smooth it made me check the album cover to see if it was really him doing the vocals! Displaying his complete versatility and talent, Bad As Me is a stellar showcase of Tom Waits’s quirkiness and storytelling.  by Andy Szollosi

November 14th 2011
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