Tom Waits has a new album, Bad As Me coming out next Tuesday, October 25th. For the fans out there in the interwebs, he allowed streaming of his entire album in advance of its release, so this is a review based upon a handful of listens. My opinion on the album will undoubtedly change as I hear it more, but I wanted to get something up now about my initial reactions.
Everyone likes when their favorite artists release a new album, but Tom Waits fans are a particularly excitable bunch. The release of a new album just gets us all in a tizzy. Being a Tom Waits fan, it’s like being a club. Granted, it’s a BIG club, as there are a lot of us, but Tom Waits is one of those polarizing artists. There’s a few folks that are hardcore fans of one era of music but not so much other eras of his career (he has a 30-year recording career so there are definitely “eras” in his discography), but most fans dig the whole spectrum. And as he gets older, his music gets weirder. And in general, you either cannot fathom why someone might listen to his increasingly challenging, dissonant, cacophonous albums or you freaking LOVE it. I fall into the latter camp (and this is understatement).
Now, before I give you a quick run-down of the new album, I want to say that there are no Tom Waits albums that I don’t like. EVERY album is good, most are great. There are some I listen to more than others. And lately, I must confess, his albums haven’t always been so listenable for me. What I mean is this: I think Real Gone has some amazing tracks, and all the tracks are good. But I just don’t find myself listening to it often and rarely beginning to end. I played it steadily when it came out, but not much these days. There’s simply something about it that rattles me to much to put it on beginning to end. This is not a criticism, per se. I actually think some of the most “difficult” songs are the best on the album. Maybe it’s that my “listening” tastes have changed a bit over the last few years. And Orphans, man, that’s an amazing 3 disk set, but I will also confess that there are songs on there that come on my iTunes shuffle and I’m like “What the hell Tom Waits song is this?” I’m still just not familiar with everything on those albums, even years after its release. That’s a lot of music to digest.
So here we are at Bad As Me. The first track is all driving relentless horns and non-stop rhythm. It builds and builds with a tension it never let loose. The title track is also a fun, funny, and nasty little tune with a clamoring, funky vibe with Tom’s haunted growl above the fray. All the weird experimental stuff is there. But I find this to be his most listenable album in years. It works well as a cohesive whole, and I find it both challenging AND accessible. I think that may be because this album feels a bit “retro” on some tracks, a bit like a throwback to his earlier albums, but not like a retread. It doesn’t sound old, but it sounds familiar, and that’s not a bad thing. Several tracks make me think of Frank’s Wild Years (“Chicago”), while others summon up the vibe from Swordfishtrombone (“Pay Me”) or Blue Valentine (“Kiss Me”). Yet there are other tracks that sound fresh and unlike anything he’s done before (“Back In The Crowd,” which for some reason seems like a cousin to a Roy Orbison song). AND for the first time (I believe) in his whole discography, Tom drops the F-bomb on a track, which surprised me, but really works in the context of the song (“Hell Broke Luce”).
So it should be clear by now that this is a glowing review. I don’t really “star” albums of give them grades, but this is a solid "A" in my opinion. Pick it up on October 25th. I will, for sure.