Tom Waits pleases waiting fans with new album
If you’re anything like me, you were starting to worry that Tom Waits had pulled a Marky Mark and forsaken the music industry for the bright lights of Hollywood. True, Waits isn’t exactly a prolific actor (his last role was a bit part in The Book of Eli), but it’s been seven years since his last album, Real Gone. Seven years can be a long time in the music world. In 2004, everyone was singing “Hey Ya,” Usher had the biggest album in the country, and people knew what a Hoobastank was. In those seven years, Waits kept his fans occupied with a rarities collection (Orphans) and a live album (Glitter and Doom), but anticipation was building for a new studio album. So now we have “Bad As Me.” Waits pulled out all the stops on this record, getting guest appearances from David Hidalgo (of Los Lobos), Les Claypool, Flea and Keith Richards. His fans have responded by making this Waits’ highest charting album ever.
So is “Bad As Me” worth waiting seven years for? That depends on what you’re looking to get out of it. If you’re interested in the individual songs, there are plenty of great ones on this album, and a few would be good contenders for a greatest hits compilation. If you want a fully realized album, “Bad As Me” doesn’t quite deliver. Don’t get me wrong, this is a very good album, but it doesn’t come together as a cohesive whole in the way that Waits’ classic albums do. On this album, Waits seems to be cherry-picking songs from various periods of his career, at times playing the grizzled bluesman, the cowboy balladeer, and the lounge singer doing his best Billie Holliday impression. For the most part, he shifts effortlessly between styles. Songs like “Raised Right Men,” “Satisfied,” and the title track are spooky blues bangers that put Waits in his element, wailing at the top of his lungs. “Kiss Me” and “New Years Eve” show that Waits can write a piano ballad to rival the best of them, with the latter track featuring one of the most heartbreaking renditions of “Auld Lang Syne” put on record.
Only a few songs fall flat, but when they do, it’s pretty cringe-worthy. “Last Leaf,” an acoustic ballad with Richards on backing vocals, would sound ridiculous if anyone else sang it, and is only made bearable by the gravel in Waits’ voice. On “Hell Broke Luce,” Waits tries to spice up what would have been an unhinged monster of a track with a healthy dose of f-bombs. I’m no Puritan, but Waits is one of the few musicians whose songs are astounding enough without the unnecessary profanity. “Bad As Me” has its shortcomings, but these are vastly outnumbered by its high points. It may not become a modern classic, but it is more than enough to keep Waits’ fans happy for another seven years.