Review Summary: Not exactly a kiss from a stranger, but damn fine all the same.
I remember my mother’s first experience of Tom Waits. I remember it because I introduced her to him, and her response was “How could anyone love that"” She was being entirely sincere. What she heard in the gravelly, insane ramblings of “Lucinda/Ain’t Goin’ Down” – from his last major release, Glitter and Doom Live
- was a man who had drunk one too many scotches and then tried to sing in front of a crowded bar, who were apparently too drunk to boo him off. She’s not far from the truth actually. Tom Waits probably has drunk one too many scotches, and I would not be surprised if the people he first sang to were too drunk to care. That’s the funny thing about Mr. Waits though, people do love him, and they’ve loved him for almost half a century now, even when they’re not wasted. Now, in 2011, 40 years after Waits made his first major step into the music industry, he gives us yet another reason to sing his praises in a poor, and possibly drunk, imitation of his style.
Bad As Me
is not new ground for Waits. Its pastiche of rock, jazz, blues, and a few things in between, has been a staple of his sound since his experimental period in the 80s. He’s been refining it since then, alternately boiling it down to bare essentials and blowing it up with vigour. Bad As Me has a bit of both, embracing songs that feel like reconsiderations of Waits’ earlier style (“Kiss Me”) as well as tracks like “Hell Broke Luce”, which feeds off his most aggressive performance in decades. Let’s be clear, when we talk about “Hell Broke Luce”, we’re not talking about his usual stomp (though that too is present), we’re talking about Waits waging an all out battle against war. He is angry as hell, and he’s not shy about it.
If this sounds like a retread, or at least a celebration of a bygone era, then I’ve done my job right, because that’s what it actually sounds like. It sounds like Waits doing what he’s always done, but better. My jaw was on the floor when I heard “Talking At The Same Time” and realized that the vocals serenading my ears were Waits’. The last time he sung in that pitch (and correct me if I’m wrong) was in 1992, on “Dirt In The Ground”, and it sounded horrible – I laughed my head off at the thought that Tom Freaking Waits was trying to use a falsetto. Nobody’s laughing now. The sound he produces on “Talking At The Same Time” is more than respectable, especially for a man whose usual range includes “insanely deep”.
Bad As Me
may be a retread, but it doesn’t feel tired. Waits has all the energy of a young performer with the added bonus of decades of experience behind him, a glorious combination if ever there was one. He’s now entering his fifth decade as a performer but you wouldn’t know it just by listening to him, you’d swear it was his second or third. Bless his whiskey drenched soul, in all those years he hasn’t lost a step.