Release Date: Oct 25, 2011
Record label: Anti
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Contemporary Singer/Songwriter, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
Hip-hop has never produced anything quite like Drake – a guy with a Jay-Z ego and a Charlie Brown soul. The Canadian singer-rapper introduced his melancholy-player persona on 2010's platinum Thank Me Later, spooling out alarmingly mellow confessional brags over synth-streaked tracks that suggested someone had spiked his Cristal with NyQuil and truth serum. "Famous like a drug that I've taken too much of," he rapped, and somehow made you sympathetic to all his stardom-is-hard meditations.So, how's he feeling these days? The cover of Take Care says it all: Drake sits forlornly in the depths of a mansion he could've bought from 1970s Jimmy Page, slung over a golden goblet of $50-a-glass painkiller.
"With my coat and my hat/I say goodbye to all that," snarls Tom Waits on "Chicago," hopping a train rhythm of horns, harmonica, banjo and electric guitars. The opener of his latest set is a classic American narrative: a hard-luck case setting out for a better life. But this is 2011, the world bled by Wall Street, and things are fucked everywhere. Dude is hoping against hope, but no one - himself included - expects this to end well.
Tom Waits may pay the mortgage as a musician, but he clearly has the heart of a junkman. With Waits, you get the sense that nothing ever truly gets thrown away—maybe pushed deeper back or buried beneath but never completely discarded or forgotten. On Bad As Me, Waits’ first collection of entirely new material since 2004’s clanging, scraping Real Gone, the once inebriated lounge act turned beatboxing junkman picks through the scrap metal and tire piles of his nearly 40-year career and shows that a shine can be salvaged from even the rustiest pieces.
On Bad As Me’s clattering, horn-driven opener “Chicago,” Tom Waits careens like a hobo evangelist, making the dangerous proposition to “Leave all we’ve ever known/ For a place we’ve never seen” seem as inviting as a pile of straw in a boxcar. Nearly 20 albums on, the bard of decrepitude has no time for slowing down in his quest for all things off-kilter, American, and worn. But unlike the mechanical raving of Real Gone or the bugged-out balladry of the “Frank’s Wild Years” trilogy, Bad as Me is full of less-aggressive songs that sound like the castoff treasures he’s been after all along.
Back in 1992, in a piece for the St. Louis Post Dispatch, a journalist called Steve Pick cast an eye over the recent release of Tom Waits’ newest composition Bone Machine, the record that would make it ten studio albums for Waits 19 years ago. Pick gladly sucks up the ineluctable apocalyptic fervor that Bone Machine weeps through its gashes and sores and delights in the dirt that coats songs so willing to assure us that "hell is boiling over/ and heaven in full/ we’re all chained to the world/ and we all gotta pull/ and we’re all gonna be/ just dirt in the ground", before concluding, somewhat prosaically after the talk of floods, fires, rain and angels, that Bone Machine is a ‘welcome return from a talented musician’.
The first album of all new songs Waits has released since 2004's Real Gone rattles out of the station with the rollicking Chicago, a fine addition to the tradition of American train songs, like a cartoon version Leadbelly's Midnight Special. The track is a statement of intent for what follows, as this album is Waits' bluesiest and rockiest in a long time. The presence of one Keith Richards on this song and three others reinforces the R & B elements of the album, although if only the Stones had sounded this vital at a similar point in their career, instead of strutting their aching bones on the stages of the world's enormodomes.
Without abandoning his classic formula — junkyard percussion, loose-limbed blues licks, and that unmistakable mouth-of-hell baritone — Waits keeps pulling switcheroos out of his porkpie hat on his 20th album. Keith Richards drops in some rambling six-string on ”Chicago,” and few ballads weep as profoundly as ”Pay Me.” One thing you can’t fake: Waits’ personal universe, full of carnies, dust, tears, whiskey, and hope. And yes, a whole lot of growling.
The ability to surpass twenty records and lose nary a lick of character and assuredness is a rare talent. Many musicians waver and tumble as they try to walk the tightrope of same and new—stay too much the same and he's boring, stuck in a rut. Change too much, and he's lost what made him special in the first place. This has never been a problem for Tom Waits, the strange, one-heart-two-heads entity who saunters between gravelly, broken ballads and rollicking freak-show rock without ever losing sight of his singular ethos.
For his 20th studio album, Tom Waits’ wife and longtime musical collaborator, Kathleen Brennan, advised the gravelly voiced Rock and Roll Hall of Famer to keep it simple. No long, winding epic songs about soldiers at war, no massive, meandering epics. “Get in, get out. No fucking around,” Waits told Pitchfork.
Back when The Old, Weird America, Greil Marcus' expansive treatise on Bob Dylan's 1967 collaboration with the Band, was first published in hardcover in 1997 (the same year, incidentally, that Smithsonian Folkways reissued Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music), it was called Invisible Republic. It was an apt, even poignant title that still never managed to evoke half the wistfulness its paperback replacement did. Marcus' disciples quickly rallied around the new phrase, adopting it as a kind of credo, a genre, and an aspirational aesthetic that owed as much to Robert Frank and Jack Kerouac as it did to Charley Patton and the Carter Family.
By the fall of 2004, it felt like the country had had enough. Despite President Bush’s claim of “Mission Accomplished” in May 2003, our ordeal in Iraq was far from over, and outcry over the war fell on deaf ears. Protests and grassroots efforts blossomed, building to a change. John Kerry, Bush’s opponent in the 2004 election could—in spite of himself—make things better.
Bad as Me is Tom Waits' first collection of new material in seven years. He and Kathleen Brennan -- wife, co-songwriter, and production partner -- have, at the latter's insistence, come up with a tight-knit collection of short tunes, the longest is just over four minutes. This is a quick, insistent, and woolly aural road trip full of compelling stops and starts.
The last seven years have been busy ones for Tom Waits, despite the fact that they haven’t yielded a single album of newly recorded material. Instead, he’s engaged in an extensive program of legacy-padding, with 2006’s bustling three-disc B-sides collection and his first extensive tour in years, a double-album document of which was released in 2009. All this activity has left the ground fallow for Bad As Me, a brash return to form that finds the artist still occupying his usual comfort zones.
Sixty-one-year-old artists releasing the 17th studio album of their careers have normally earned the right not to make things easy for anyone. That theory should go double for song men such as Tom Waits, a bloody-minded old goat not overly given to the vagaries of commerce or fashion. He sings with a gulletful of acid reflux. He wears hats like it's 1947.
"I'm the boat that won't sink, I won't sleep a wink," declares Tom Waits, perhaps explaining the rollercoasting urgency that runs through his 17th album and the first of completely new material in seven years. Now 61, with Keith Richards in his band and his voice sounding like an American Shane MacGowan with a heavy cold after a night spent in a grave, Waits's songs hurtle past in waves of blistering energy and imagery. Demented New Orleans and Depression-era blues, Elvis-type tearjerkers, accordion laments, rollicking Birthday Party punk and madcap T Rex distortions of rock'n'roll are delivered with fire, brimstone and recordings of machine guns and horses.
You don’t have to be old to start baying like a hellhound at the prospect of a new [a]Tom Waits[/a] record. The postmodern blues croaker has enjoyed a career arc in stark opposition to rock’s littered landscape of beautiful corpses, only improving as age has made him sound more in need of a throat lozenge. As such, ‘[b]Bad As Me[/b]’ has to rank as a disappointment, since there are no surprises to match ‘[b]Real Gone[/b]’’s sepulchral funk or ‘[b]Orphans…[/b]’’ breathtaking sweep.
Tom Waits is one of those rare artists who've consistently improved over the span of their careers, which makes a new album from him reason to be excited. Sure enough, the dependable Waits has come up with another collection of that murky, ramshackle Americana we love so much. But, while Bad As Me has no duds, it also sounds way too familiar to be as satisfying as you want it to be.
Tom Waits is a big ol’ softie. He may project a gruff persona, he may howl with that gravel-gargling voice, and he may craft some of the most clangorous music imaginable, but the man never shies away from a weepy ballad. Instead, he understands the emotional power of schmaltz – in the unironic nostalgia of characters thumbing over dear memories and worn dreams until they’re creased and tattered like old photographs.
For Bad as Me, his 22nd recording – 17th in the studio, and first in lucky seven years – Tom Waits colors outside the lines with a grainy, black marker. The 13 tracks are his butcher's dozen of yowling ballads, whiskey poems, and blustery blues aided by a heartbreak posse that includes longtime collaborator Kathleen Brennan and musical henchmen Marc Ribot and Larry Taylor. Waits wastes no time, opening with the ironfisted chug of "Chicago" and arming it with Keith Richards' guitar.
“I’m the last leaf on the tree,” Tom Waits croons on new song ‘Last Leaf’, “The autumn took the rest but it won’t take me”. Whether this is a boast or a lament, I’m not sure, but it certainly rings true of Waits. Even our most beloved senior rock & rollers experience years of artistic fallow and famine from which many never recover.
Waits is roaming his property, repainting the fence instead of jumping over it. Chris Power 2011 It’s been five years since Tom Waits released Orphans, a triple album that mixed new songs with a clear out of oddities and outtakes, making Bad as Me his first album of all-new material since 2004’s scabrous and sonically inventive Real Gone. Couple that with his reputation as one of the greatest musicians of the last 40 years and it’s fair to say that expectations for Bad as Me are high.