Tom Waits | Bad as Me (Anti-)

cd Tom-WaitsYou already know more or less what to expect; Tom Waits records are always good.

 

Is there really any point in reviewing Tom Waits records anymore? They’re always good, and while they’re not all the same, you do know more or less what to expect. And how many new ways can music writers really come up with to describe his singular voice? So we’ll just move past that stuff here. Take it for granted; you’ll be doing us all a favor at this point.

Waits’ new album, Bad as Me, opens with “Chicago,” a lumpy, screechy track that plays like a more mild-mannered “Singapore” or “Underground”—yes, he even has a type of track he likes to open records with. “Chicago” aside, most of the best tracks here are the ones he dubbed “Bawlers” on his fantastic 2006 collection Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards. (“Chicago” is a brawler.) My initial pick for the best track on the album is “Talking at the Same Time,” which features such quintessentially political Waitsian lyrics as “Well we bailed out all the millionaires/ They got the fruit, we got the rind/ And everybody’s talking at the same time.” A couple of tracks later comes another good slow-burner, “Face to the Highway”: “I turned my face to the highway/ And I turned my back on you.”

Elsewhere, the title track is fun but maybe doesn’t deserve the big push Anti- has been giving it as a representative of the album; it’s one of the lesser tracks in the long run. There’s an amusing brawler toward the end called “Hell Broke Luce,” which is another of Waits’ war songs (e.g., Real Gone’s “Day After Tomorrow”), but this time perhaps angrier and definitely crazier: “I had a good home but I left, left/ That big fucking bomb made me deaf, deaf […]/ Listen to the general every goddamn word/ How many ways can you polish up a turd?”

The only two tracks that don’t work for me on the main album are “Satisfied,” which is the one on which Keith Richards guests that you may have heard about (too bad it’s a subpar track) and the album-closer, “New Year’s Eve,” which seems mostly an excuse for Waits to sing “Auld Lang Syne.” Meanwhile, Bad as Me is being released several different ways, and if you buy the limited-edition CD set, you get a bonus disc with three more songs (which also are available for download, if you’d rather go that route, though they aren’t on the vinyl release at all). The three extra tracks aren’t bad, but are not particularly good, either, which is presumably why they left them off the album proper. This limited set comes in a bigger package that’s closer to a book (or maybe a hardcover pamphlet); it’s pretty cool but doesn’t fit on your shelf right and maybe isn’t worth the effort. As of this writing, the set is still readily available (nearly two months after its release), but if somewhere down the line you want to buy this album and can’t track down the limited version or if you just prefer buying vinyl in the first place, I wouldn’t sweat the loss of those tracks, if I were you. A- | Pete Timmermann

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