A well-rounded Tom Waits album in 2011? Well, ya' don't say...
Bad As Me is the best sounding Tom Waits album in years. Well okay, it's also his first studio album of new material in about seven years, period.
But that's beside the point. Coming from a guy who has made a career out of writing singularly amazing songs — even as he has all but defied virtually every convention associated with traditional songwriting — the broad, stylistic diversity of these songs is nothing short of stunning. On Bad As Me, Waits revisits many of the same questionable haunts, inhabited by the usual cast of shady characters, that he has for going on a half century now.
But there are also some surprising new twists here.
On the gorgeous sounding "Talking At The Same Time," Waits' trademark cigarette and whiskey laced rasp — that same, late night damaged vocal cough that lends so many of his songs their unmistakable authenticity — is transformed into an unexpectedly lilting falsetto.
While it isn't quite Smokey Robinson worthy, when combined with longtime guitarist Marc Ribot's fabulous tremelo effects on guitar, the results effectively take you to that same dark, foreboding cinematic place as a great David Lynch film. The only thing missing is the midget dancing on a checkerboard floor to a torch singers take on "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road."
No sooner are these darker corners explored, then Waits makes an abrupt about-face to "Get Lost" in a semi-rockabilly rave-up that allows guitarists Ribot and Los Lobos' David Hildalgo to cut loose with some savage slapback. Ribot and Hildalgo explore similar fifties rock and roll territory on "Tell Me." Only this time, they take a detour down the sweeter, less threatening paths forged by Phil Spector and Brian Wilson. If Roy Orbison were still alive, this song would be a perfect vehicle for him.
As hard as it might be to imagine the weathered and weary voice of Tom Waits conjuring that same type of original teen-pop innocence, he pulls the trick off quite convincingly here. In fact, the single most astonishing thing about Bad As Me is probably the revelation of Tom Waits as a vocalist of previously unrealized depth.