Album review: Tom Waits – Bad As Me

Back in 1985, Sounds (like NME but far better) reviewed Waits’s Rain Dogs. The standout claim was that Keith Richards, who played on several tracks, was playing with the best band in the world. I, therefore, bought the album – and hated it. It was my introduction to Tom Waits. It was not until I happened to hear Paul Young’s cover of Waits’s ‘Soldier’s Things’ a year later which Waits had originally recorded for Swordfishtrombones that I gave Rain Dogs another chance. The latter is now one of my favourite albums, whilst the former is the album I would have recommended as an introduction to Tom Waits – until now.

Bad As Me, Waits’s first album of new songs since 2004s excellent but difficult  Real Gone,  is probably as commercial an album as Waits has released since the early 80s. Richards rejoins Waits, his regular guitarist Marc Ribot and bassist Larry Taylor on four tracks, one of which, ‘Satisfied’, is a response to Richards and Mick Jaggers own ‘Satisfaction’ (“My ass, you can’t get no satisfaction”).

The album as a whole spans many of the styles that Waits has adopted over his 40-year career, and does so in 13 roughly three-minute tracks. ‘Kiss me’ is one of the most beautiful love songs ever recorded, and is recorded with minimal guitar, piano and bass accompaniment in the style of his 70s classic ‘Blue Valentine.’ ‘Hell Broke Luce’ is a percussiony, handclapping chant common of his later recordings, with pithy couplets (“Big fucking ditches in the middle of the road/you pay a hundred dollars just for filling in the holes”). Best of all is the title track which combines the dramatic twangy guitar with Waits’s most dangerously wailing voice and his sharp, surreal but non-judgemental observations.

Not his best record perhaps, but the finest album you’ll hear this year.

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