A prophetic voice has returned. The first release of this decade for Tom Waits is his most accessible record in quite some time. It’s also one of his most brutal lyrically. Bad As Me is laced with the political insight that came to the surface with 2004’s Real Gone.
Waits has evolved over the last few years from portraying marginalized characters in his vaudevillian fashion to speaking up for their plight more explicitly. “Talking at the Same Time” bashes corporate news networks, the ongoing war and the bailout.
It’s not all political; Bad As Me showcases some of Waits’ most tender material to date as well. “Back in the Crowd” is a simple broken heart song that invites comparisons to some Rain Dogs-era material (i.e. “Time,” “Hang Down Your Head”).
“Kiss Me” is in a similar vein. It’s a mellow jazz number about rekindling romance. Waits and his better half Kathleen Brennan have been a happily married couple and songwriting partners since the early 80s. Take notes while listening to this one.
“Satisfied” and “Last Leaf” feature guest spots from Rolling Stones’ guitarist Keith Richards (and a name drop in the lyrics).
Richards also dropped in for the Rain Dogs sessions in ‘85.
This muscular blues tune is a perfect number for his return. “Last Leaf” is a mellow number with Richards also providing backing vocals. It’s a lovely reflection on aging.
The freshest track is “Hell Broke Luce” which serves as Waits Apocalypse Now or
Johnny Got His Gun for the War on Terror generation. Waits is sharp-tongued and uncompromising. It’s a hard listen.
Waits details war injuries and tells the back-stories of the wounded soldiers. They are painfully real, as if he interviewed actual veterans (he even names the characters).
Waits’ characters are often grotesque and surreal. Exaggerations yes, but Waits’ music is defiantly human. His theatric persona should never be mistaken as impersonal. Like any honest writer, he has sympathy for the characters he creates—they speak to the human condition.
[pullquote]Waits’ characters are often grotesque and surreal. Exaggerations yes, but Waits’ music is defiantly human[/pullquote]
Bad As Me is as beautiful as it is intense—easily the finest artistic statement of the year. It’s a dissenting voice in an age of exhaustion and disillusionment.
Waits takes musicians half his age to school on this one.
Bad is bound to bring new fans into the fold. Waits doesn’t sound like an old codger pining for the good old days. He’s completely in the here-and-now with eyes wide open and a mouth full of venom for the corrupt.
For the broken, as always, Waits has nothing but empathy.
“Talking at the Same Time”
“Hell Broke Luce” (Listener Advisory: Disturbing war-based lyrics, strong language)
This is a must listen. 5/5
Malopriate Index: Waits’ soldiers in “Hell Broke Luce” have colorful vocabularies. This is rare for Waits and is most likely an attempt to portray the reality of the trenches. For some the disturbing imagery will probably be harder to handle than the rough language.