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Mule Variations

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Mule Variations + Bone Machine + Heart of Saturday Night
Price For All Three: CDN$ 54.52

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Product Details

  • Audio CD (Sept. 1 2003)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: FAB
  • ASIN: B00000IGGA
  • Other Editions: Audio CD  |  Audio Cassette  |  LP Record
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (208 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #17,138 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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
7. Pony
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

Product Description


More seen than heard in recent years, Waits proves again why he deserves an audience. -- People


Seven years passed between the release of Bone Machine and Mule Variations. During that time Tom Waits eschewed cutting another "conventional" (the term used loosely here) song collection, occupying his time with acting projects, a soundtrack (Night on Earth), a stage project (The Black Rider), and sundry smaller diversions. What's surprising about Mule Variations is how little he's strayed from the old Bone yard through the years. As with his Grammy-winning 1992 outing, Waits intersperses the tough and the tender, mixing exercises in creative noisemaking with tunes that fall on just the right side of maudlin. As with Bone Machine's "The Ocean Doesn't Want Me," "What's He Building?" is an experiment in word jazz that owes a debt to its creator, Ken Nordine. Waits has again assembled a crew of attuned sidemen (including Primus and steadfast backers Ralph Carney, Larry Taylor, and Joe Gore). And, as always, Waits and his wife-cosongwriter-coproducer Kathleen Brennan exhibit an uncanny ear for the arcane. In the end, Mule Variations is the aural equivalent of a salvage shop that, while largely familiar, still has a few secluded chambers and trap doors. --Steven Stolder

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars

Most helpful customer reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A. Favre on May 29 2004
Format: Audio CD
After reading multiple reviews on this site, most of the reviewers have it right, 4 or 5 stars. What is interesting is that people get hung up on having their favorite artists do things only one way.
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).
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Format: Audio CD
This is not an album that lets you in the first time you listen to it, or even the second, or the third. This isn't pop music. If you listen closely, though, you can hear just about every face that Tom Waits has ever showed the world, which is appropriate considering that this was his swan song (say it ain't so!). There are some songs that would be right at home on Closing Time; others seem to be tracks that were left off of Bone Machine.
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!
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By Peter Uys HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on Dec 26 2003
Format: Audio CD
This great album opens with Big In Japan, a humorous number in bluesy style with brilliant guitar and innovative arrangement, which is followed by the slow, eerie Lowside Of The Road, a real hangover song with striking imagery.
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.
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Format: Audio CD
'Mule Variations' was only Waits' second proper album of the 90s and definitely inferior to 1992's 'Bone Machine', but then again, so is the vast majority of any material available on the market. 'Mule Variations' is full of great songs and throws a few new sounds into the jumbled grab-bag that is Tom Waits' career, but some of it doesn't hold up as well.
'Big In Japan' is one of the more distinctive songs in the Waits cannon and will go down as one of his more memorable songs as will 'Come On Up To The House'. Some of the songs have an unfinished quality to them, like 'Picture In A Frame' seemed as if it could've had more to it and 'Georgia Lee' has such a familiar sound to it (the slow piano ballad). 'Get Behind The Mule' is one of the better songs off the album, but again has that "familiar" quality to it. Waits' lyrics are somewhat dark and odd, but have that same charm that they've always had, and his voice is still in top (ragged and rough) form, especially the finale, 'Come On Up To The House' being on of his best vocal performances of his career. The the instrumentation on the album isn't all too different, with the exception of a turntable and some vocal processing on a couple tracks. Some may find this familiarity as a blessing, and others may find it as a curse. It turns out 'Mule Variations' is a little bit of both.
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