|1. Big In Japan|
|2. Lowside Of The Road|
|3. Hold On|
|4. Get Behind The Mule|
|5. House Where Nobody Lives|
|6. Cold Water|
|8. What's He Building?|
|9. Black Market Baby|
|10. Eyeball Kid|
|11. Picture In A Frame|
|12. Chocolate Jesus|
|13. Georgia Lee|
|14. Filipino Box Spring Hog|
|15. Take It With Me|
|16. Come On Up To The House|
For instance, those that may have started with Waits during his younger years, may only appreciate his talking, rambling, discovered stories. Others that jumped on midway may only appreciate his "found" experimental sounds (Bone Machine anyone?). However, this is yet another rung in the Tom Waits evolution.
Those that dismissed this disc must be very narrow in their likes. Only country, only rap, etc. To pigeonhole Mr. Waits into only one type of music that he is "good" at is very disappointing. For those calling this his "swan song" or recommending to "skip it", you are really missing out. What a great combination of lyrics, vocals, and sounds. It works. It must to have been nominated and won the (grammy?) for best folk record that year.
Hey, skip it if you don't want to hear something good. Sure, you need to pick up Nighthawk's at the Diner, Bone Machine, and many of the others as well. This is well worth the $$$. Go for the import if you want the complete disc, or download the free MP3's off of amazon to complete it (Buzz Fledderjohn and Big Face Money).
If you keep at it, one day it'll go 'pop'. Suddenly you'll hear the subtle and not-so-subtle twists and turns and variations in the music and the words. You'll find the improbable links between the likes of What's He Building and Hold On. You'll wander through a maze of carnival characters and whimsical malcontents, not to mention the occassional wack-o.
Waits manages to give his characters depth and nuance; he makes them empathetic and sometimes outright pathetic, all in the space of five or six minutes. Each one takes the stage, does a dance, and then retires back into the smokey backlight to make room for the next.
To be sure, your ear will take some time adjusting to the likes of Big in Japan or Cold Water. Believe it or not, though, one day you'll find yourself humming the improbable opening to the album and getting puzzled looks from passers-by.
I can only suggest that you buy this album, and if it doesn't grab you right away give it some time - I was turned off the first time I bought it and actually returned it. That was three years ago, and I regret the time not spent getting acquainted with some of Waits' finest!
Hold On is a typical sad Waits ballad, which means it's beautiful, tuneful and moving. It has an unusually light rhythm and melody though, unlike some of his other masterpiece ballads like for example In The Neighbourhood or Saving All My Love For You. House Where Nobody Lives is unique too, another gripping ballad with moving words and images. It makes me think of both Mansion On The Hill by Springsteen and the old classic Satisfied Mind.
All Waits' styles are in glorious display including the talking blues of Get Behind The Mule and the deep bluesrock of ballads like Come On Up To The House and Cold Water. For someone who prefers his ballads and his singing voice, I find both quite appealing. The next track, Pony, is another one of my favorite slow melodic numbers embellished with exquisite pump organ, dobro and harp.
This album certainly lives up to its name with its astonishing variety, like the spooky spoken track What's He Building and the story songs Black Market Baby and Eyeball Kid with its innovative samples and percussion. Waits even explores his Beefheartian side on Filipino Box Spring Hog. There's also the gentle love song Picture In A Frame with its elegant piano and the sorrowful country song Georgia Lee.
Mule Variations is a masterpiece of an album that contains impressive, timeless songs of great lyrical depth, melodic beauty and stylistic variety. Whether you like Waits as a phenomenon by himself or whether you like only certain of his styles, this album will not disappoint as it offers enough brilliance for everybody.