There really is a God and he's just sent us another Tom Waits album to prove it. Artists like this, and there are only a very precious few of them on the planet, sometimes take years and years to put out new material but when it shows up, the first experience of it sends a torrential rush up the spine of absolute CONFIRMATION. THIS is the STUFF! Truly original and perenially great writer/performers/innovators like Tom Waits, Peter Gabriel, Laurie Anderson, Brian Eno, Paul Simon, Neil Young and David Byrne, all of them remarkably different in about as many ways as you can imagine, still have that one thing in common - that confirmation, that instant recognition of something not quite touchable by reason and definition that floods almost violently into the depths of the soul and makes you go ... "Yeaaahh"!
My first exposure to Mr. Waits' music was one golden summer evening back in '79. The band I was playing with, The Martian Panda Band, were rehearsing and we took a break to hang out and have a beer. We were talking the Stones and Gerry Jeff Walker when our bass player asked me if I'd heard Tom Waits. I hadn't. "Ohhhhhhh!" went the room and in nano-seconds "Small Change" was on the turntable. All of the guys were watching my face. I went from mouth wide open and eyes skewed to the side to hysterical convulsions of laugher ( "Step Right Up", "Pasties and a G String" and "The Piano Has Been Drinking" ) to a final head-shaking and expulsions of "genius, absolute f'ing genius". Great smiles spread out across all the their faces because I 'got' it. I understood. I went, "yeahhh". Immediately I ventured out and bought "Small Change". That experience has never let me. Over the years I have been confused, bemused, highly entertained, enlightened, enlivened and sparked into a thousand imaginations by the work of this utterly unique American genius. "What's he building in there? ", indeed. As funny and gritty, as obscure and utterly mad, as totally tanked as he sometimes sounds and as disturbing and heart-rending as he can be, Tom Waits has a deep, essential humanity that reaches far into you and stirs you in ways that no other avenue of art on the planet does. "Raiding the junkyard of American music", as was brilliantly put below, Tom Waits also mines the many amazing psyche's and spirits that make up the North American collective consciousness. With eloquence and the simple, dust-laden grace of a very deep experience that borders on the mystical, Waits alchemizes the real, warts and all, reality of the American soul and sends it back to us with both striking honesty and surreality at the same time. It is a fantastic universe he inhabits, one that we move through ourselves without seeing the shamanistic significances and grittily beautiful ironies that only he seems to be able show back to us. It might not even be that much of a stretch to think of him as the 'David Lynch' of music. But it works because if you 'get' him, you nod and shake your head in confirmation and you laugh too, accepting his gifts and his 'initiations'. Shaman, poet, trickster, con-man, ringleader, bar room philosopher, maaaaaaaaaaaaad genius extrarodinaire and whisky priest of absolution, Tom Waits is the eighth wonder of the world.
From the chugging, train rhythms of "Chicago's" bustling opening to the not-been-said-enough, bluesy vamp of "Raised Right Men", to the very "Franks Wild Years" of "Talking at the Same Time", to the Rockabilly hook of "Get Lost", the late night, had too many blur and clarity of "Face to the Highway"'s ramblin' wanderlust, the welcome "Small Change" early-style ballad strains of "Pay Me", the quintessentially American, almost 50's-flavoured ballad of "Back in the Crowd", with Marc Ribot's wonderful guitar stylings, to the chunky thump of the "Rain Dogs" style title song with it's spit and growl vocals and it's killer voice overs and the bluesy, grimey romance of the not-so-beautiful but transcendant wonder of "Kiss Me", and on and on - "Bad as Me" is as much a mining of Wait's entire opus as it is a dipping into the junkyards of American music. If anything is a love letter to those who've followed him over the years "Bad As Me" is it.
"Satisfied" is probably the craziest, stamp your feet in absolute mad joy, song in the set. With guitar provided by the raunchy, filthy presence of Keith Richards himself and Wait's homage to the classic Stones song, addressing "Mr. Jagger and Mr. Richards" directly in the lyrics, "Satisfied" is an absolute riot. I can just imagine the smokey, sweaty, JD-infused bouquet of the the studio with Tom, Keef and Charlie Mussellwaite all going at the muse with a vengeance. But if that wasn't enough, "Last Leaf's" duet of Waits and Richards is worth the entire price of the album. THAT should have been filmed. "Hell Broke Luce" brings us darkly and muscularly back to the present with the toughest piece in the set. Angry, defiant, outraged, threatening, this is a power piece worthy of "Mule Variations". It's condemnation of war and the power hypocrisy of governments is entirely apropos. America is very, very ANGRY right now, and "Hell Broke Luce" screams it out with absolute, deadly power. "How many ways can you polish up a turd?" Tom asks with titanic rage. The regular edition ends with the beauty of another classic Tom Waits ballad "New Year's Eve" with it's ironic coupling of supposed celebrations breaking down into chaos and sadness, brawling and confusion. The messy, alcohol blurred mayhem of a real New Years Eve. "It was like two stations on at the same time". It finishes finally with a few rounds of "Auld Lang Syne". Perfect.
The Deluxe edition comes with an additional disc with 3 songs on it. Far from being leftovers, the three tracks are just as great as the rest of the album. The Deluxe package actually comes as a beautiful hardbound book, with full page illustrations, many of the photographs taken by Waits himself, and the lyrics in old manual typewriter font. "Bad As Me" is a magnificent feast of splendour for Tom Waits fans. 7 years in the making, this does NOT disappoint, it gets right into your flesh and makes you want to holy roll with it's mad, sad, angry genius, makes you positively wag your head and go ... "yeaaaaahhh". Tom's back. Hallelujah.