Hell's Breaking Luce: Tom Waits' "Bad As Me"

Posted by Dale Wilsey Jr. | Posted in , , , , , , , , , | Posted on Monday, October 24, 2011

Tom Waits has always had an extraordinary talent for weaving the real with the surreal. The every day with the oddities of life. He's a circus midway in the middle of a swamp. A Peterbilt hauling a diner down a desert road with the Tattooed Lady from the sideshow in the passenger's seat. And blaring through jukeboxes, bullhorns and radios everywhere is Waits' new album Bad As Me. His first in seven years, Waits has delivered once again.

Right from the get go, "Chicago" sends you flying down the rails on a trip to the unknown as Waits gives you his own brand of a history lesson on the Great Migration of African Americans to northern cities beginning in 1916. Waits states, "Maybe things will be better in Chicago / well it's brave for us to stay / even braver to go", ending with an urgent "All aboard!" 

One of the things you'll notice about Bad As Me is that Waits touches upon some current sociopolitical issues in a few tracks. Something, I feel, he doesn't often do. "Talking at the Same Time" is a blatant, melancholy comment on the current state of the American economy and the contrast of poverty and wealth.

Get a job, save your money, listen to Jane
everybody knows umbrellas cost more in the rain
and all the news is bad
is there any other kind?
Everybody's talking at the same time.
Well it's hard times for some
for others it's sweet
Someone makes money when there's blood
in the street.

Some artists can overdo the political commentary, but Waits approaches it with a subtle touch. The backing instrumentation to "Talking at the Same Time" paints a picture of trudging, down-on-their-luck feet walking along the street, peering in at well-off fat cats profiting from the labor of the lower class...

Well we bailed out all the millionaires
they got the fruit
we got the rind

Bad As Me is an eclectic mix of sounds. Something all Waits fans will expect before hand regardless, but here he really swings in all directions of sound. From the rockabilly infused "Get Lost" which professes a want to ramble and roam with a tight sweater-wearing love to the flamenco-tinged "Back in the Crowd" to the  uncharacteristically heavy anti-war song "Hell Broke Luce", a track only slightly rivaled in intensity by previous Waits' tracks like "God's Away on Business".

Kelly Presutto got his thumbs blown off
Sergio's developing a real bad cough...
Hell broke Luce...
Boom went his head away
and boom went Valerie
what the hell was it that the president said?
Give them all a beautiful parade instead
left, right, left

Even for Waits, this album touches an incredibly varied amount of sounds and ideas. It's as though a pinball was fired through his gray matter touching every corner of his creative conscious before constructing Bad As Me. For some, this may be a bit to take in but, for the experienced and seasoned Waits fans, you'll enjoy just how much he can still surprise you after almost 40 years of creating music.

Waits' tender, romantic side shows through in tracks like "Back in the Crowd", a western-tropical sounding, love lost ballad, "Kiss Me", a crackling, jazzy tune that searches for the excitement of new love in a long-time lover: "Kiss me like a stranger once again / I wanna believe our love's a mystery / I wanna believe our love's a sin". In "Last Leaf", Waits creates what most will interpret as having a deeper, more personal meaning of holding on to more than what he shows on the surface. Waits explains, in a recent interview, "...you could say everything's a metaphor for everything else, but sometimes it's just what it is. It's just what it's about...a tree."

There are a few, small, almost insignificant issues I have with the album, but the good has so far outweighed those issues that I have trouble remembering them. Also, if past experience is any indication, any problem I may have with a Tom Waits track slowly erodes over time leaving me with only the good. Songs that I may not have much affinity for at first become clearer over time as the nuances come to the surface and pull me in.

Bad As Me has, so far, been another incredible Waits experience. It's filled with just the right amount of every human emotion, gradually floating between melancholy and longing. Falling fast into madness and landing in a pile of tender love. Maybe I'm just too much of a fan of Tom Waits, but I really have nothing negative to say about him right now. Unless he decides not to tour. Then, I may be a touch angered.

Overall, I'd have to rate this up there with some of my favorite Waits' albums. The best? No. But this album is incredibly diverse and full of incredible art and vision. The only thing I ask of Mr. Waits is to not keep us waiting another seven years. Bring it on the road, Tom. We all want to see your magic explode on stage like a calliope full of dynamite.

ANTI Records has released a deluxe edition of Bad As Me that includes three additional tracks on a separate CD as well as a 40-page hardcover booklet containing  images and lyrics of and inspired by the album. It is also available in a 180 gram vinyl version which comes complete with a slightly altered paper booklet and CD version of the album. Note that the vinyl version does not contain the three bonus tracks.

All photos included in this post are created by photographer Anton Corbijn. See more here.

Comments (2)

Good job.

I love this album.

Thanks, Hannah. I think I'm loving it more with each passing listen. It's been a while since I've written a review of any music as well, so I hope I did it justice.

Thanks for stopping by.


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