Tom Waits-Bad As Me

It’s been almost 40 years since Tom Waits debut album, Closing Time, was released. In the time since he’s released 22 albums, written plays, become a critically praised actor, and scored a Oscar nomination for Best Original Score (Francis Ford Coppola’s One From The Heart). Somehow he’s managed to keep every album sound fresh, mainly because he doesn’t like to bore himself and he could care less if his audience loves it. He appreciates his fans, of course, but he’s a true artist who only does what he feels he needs to, not what others want.

For me, personally, his best album is still Closing Time. There have been a lot of good albums in between that and Bad As Me. His biggest hits, SwordfishTrombone, Rain Dogs, Nighthawk’s At The Diner, and more recent Mule Variations are all very good records, but I don’t think he’s ever recaptured the purity of his first album. There are pieces from back in 1973 that still play into the sound Waits creates on his newest record, Bad As Me, and that’s part of the reason I enjoy it so much.

Another reason is that Tom Waits knows how to write a song. It seems so simple, but to be able to put out quality material for almost forty years is something only a very few can do (Dylan’s done it, Springsteen and Petty are getting close). On Bad As Me, Waits combines rock, folk, gospel, blues, and jazz to form something no one else is capable of. Yeah, he’s been doing that since the 80’s, but when you’re this good at something it never stops being impressive.

The first thing that caught my attention was the lyrics he’s written for these songs. On “Raised Right Men,” Waits talks about the lack of good men in the world while making me chuckly my head off with this line:

Heavens to murgatroid
Miners to coal
A good woman can make a diamond out of a measly lump of coal
You need the patience of a glacier
If you can wait that long
Open up his window and admit it that you’re wrong

If you’re a fan of Snagglepuss, you got that one. So that made me laugh, but later in the record Tom seems to get very angry (though it’s hard to tell with that gravelly voice of his) on the track “Hell Broke Luce.” This is my favorite song on the album, and one of my favorites of the year so far. The anger is directed at the people in charge of the wars around the world, and it’s pretty well said:

Big fucking ditches in the middle of the road
You pay a hundred dollars just for fillin’ in the hole
Listen to the general every goddamn word
How many ways can you polish up a turd
Left, right, left, left, right
Left, right
Hell broke luce
Hell broke luce
Hell broke luce

How is it that the only ones responsible for making this mess
Got their sorry asses stapled to a goddamn desk
Hell broke luce
Hell broke luce
Left, right, left

Waits has never had a problem speaking his mind, and he’s a smart enough guy to back up everything he says. On Bad As Me he doesn’t waste time trying to break down walls or unearth some new truths that have never been heard before. He’s perfectly at peace with putting his two cents in on issues that are weighing the world down. I think we’d be in much better shape if more people listened to him.

Waits fans are gonna love this record, no doubt. If you aren’t a fan, and are looking for a place to jump in, this would be a good one. For my money this is the best album he’s put out in over a decade (the Orphans 3-disc set is way too sprawling and inconsisent for me). I doubt he will ever be able to put together an album better than the ones he released in the 70’s, but I’m glad I’m around to listen to him try.