Tom Waits: Bad as Me
Douglas K. Barclay, Tower Staff
October 28, 2011
Filed under A&E
I truly do beleive that knowing Tom Waits is a keen sign of how serious a fan of music someone is. You don’t even have to like him, it’s really easy to despise his music actually, yet just knowing who the man is gives someone about ten times higher a value of cool.
Why does this matter? Because not enough people in the world are aware that quite possibly the greatest living singer/songwriter not named Robert Zimmerman (Bob Dylan) has released his first record of original new material since 2004. The record is Bad as Me and if you consider yourself a fan of interesting things, it should already be in your collection.
Tom Waits first hit the music radar in 1973. His songs of the time are quite different from what he does now, however just as brilliant. At the time he was a man who could have walked out of a time machine from 1945 Los Angeles. The black fedora, worn out, wrinkled suit jacket, chain smoke, and purely sublime piano ballads epitomized his new-found noir cool.
In the over twenty albums since his first, Waits’ music has evolved into an infathomable array of musical expression. His voice, once tired and weary, has evolved into what reviewer David Durcholz once described as one that sounds like it “was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in a smoke-house for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car.”
His voice to say the least is rough. However, if one can see through the gravelly tones and beyond into some of the most poignant lyrics and interesting music out there, it truly is a real treat.
How many artists can you think of whose music has been the subject of their own short films, whose lyrics are routinely released in book form, who has had his songs played on “So You Think You Can Dance” and who has received notoriety from acting in film? Waits has appeared in “The Book Of Eli” and “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” to name a few. This isn’t to say that I believe that being featured on terrible prime-time dancing shows is the epitome of a musician’s success, but it is useful to note how diverse his words and sounds can be.
On his new record, Waits fans can expect a return to order in contrast to his southern/blues avant garde expositions of the last decade. Gone are the xylophones and tin can drums on most tracks, having been replaced by a more classic piano or Gibson guitar sound.
Waits, who has not toured the northeast since the early 1990’s, is considered by some to be a bit of a recluse. Last year, it took someone as prolific as Neil Young to induct him into the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame.
His work has been covered by a wide range of artists including Violent Femmes, Pearl Jam, Scarlett Johansson, and perhaps most notably Bruce Springsteen. It was in fact Tom Waits who wrote one of Springsteen’s most popular tracks, “Jersey Girl.” The song originally appeared on a Waits album in 1980. The “Jersey Girl” in question was Waits’ future wife, Kathleen Brennan.
Is this Waits’ best album? No, but what this is, is a keen return to form for a man that at 61 years old deserves as much praise as could possibly be given to an artist.
Check out the last track on the album, “New Year’s Eve.” Try to dislike it. I dare you.