School of Music Album Review | Tom Waits – Bad As Me

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Young Academic’s School of Music reviews Tom Waits’ seventeenth studio album ‘Bad As Me’ as the old troubadour seemingly goes from strength to strength.

‘Bad As Me’ is the seventeenth studio album in a vast, varied discography belonging to Mr Tom Waits. It is also one of his finest albums and will sit alongside the exemplary ‘Swordfishtrombones’ and’ Rain Dogs’ as classics from the Tom Waits catalogue.

The normal themes are all there. Money and work struggles. Love stories and drama. Hard times and hard lives, all told with Waits’ famous, gruff vocal delivery over old roots music with some unexpected twists along the way. The album also touches on politics and war and is very much a poignant reminder of a lot of the issues facing the world at present.

Waits has in the past been accused of making inaccessible albums full of avant-garde pieces which barely resemble music in their structure, let alone traditional songs. ‘Bad As Me’ is not like that at all. While fans of the Captain Beefheart  style eccentric Waits still have much to enjoy on this album, it is accessible to those who appreciate him crooning out a soulful number, as he does on ‘Last Leaf’.

The opening track ‘Chicago’ is a classic Waits hard luck story of a character setting out on a journey to improve his prospects. As the guitar (played by Keith Richards) and harmonica fade away, Waits is left calling ‘all aboard’. Fitting, as the listener is about to embark on a journey of story-telling tradition and expression.

Perhaps the biggest shock on the album is ‘Get Lost’ which can only be described as a driving rockabilly fanfare in the fashion of Carl Perkins or Eddie Cochran. It is a surprising addition on the album but sits perfectly among a range of jazz simmered, guitar driven, banjo coloured, harmonica smeared tracks that make up the bulk of the album.

‘Bad As Me’ the song is also the lead single from the album and is a jazz tinged song dominated by the main instrument of the album, that bourbon soaked voice of Tom Waits. The lyric ‘you’re the same kinda bad as me’ haunts the listener as electric guitar rips the joint open and lets in a harmonica riff which eases you along to the end of the track. It is a powerful piece of music, though why it has such an effect on the listener is hard to describe. It is the kind of song that really speaks to you and makes you look inside. Something only an experienced, confident artist like Waits can achieve.

‘Satisfied’ is another of the songs on this album where Keith Richards lends some sauntering guitar work. It was also written as a response to the Rolling Stones classic ‘Satisfaction’ which makes it all the more fitting that Richards is playing on this swinging, name dropping record.

The gruff growls and high yelps of Tom Waits have told hundreds of stories, portrayed lots of characters and driven his music to all kinds of interesting, wonderful and at times weird places over the decades. On ‘Bad As Me’ the mix is perfect. The story telling is authoritative and mystical, much like Tom Waits himself.

Young Academic Star Rating – 4.5/5

A superb record, a pleasure to listen to and an adventure in itself, ‘Bad As Me’ is a record that will stand the test of time and will stand out as one of Waits’ masterpieces. It is a record that struts with importance, which has something to say and is a powerful reminder of what the elder statesman of American roots music is capable of. It is a classic.

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