Mad as a hatter — Tom Waits releases 17th studio albumPublished 10:31am Thursday, October 27, 2011
Tom Waits is still music’s mad hatter.
“Bad As Me” is the 17th studio album from Waits, and the first since he was inducted into the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame. His latest album showcases Waits’ trademark sound, which is a little bit weird, usually accessible and almost always captivating.
“Bad As Me” is a bit of a trip through the many varying sounds of Tom Waits. “Satisfied” and “Hell Broke Luce” show the styles Waits is most instantly recognized for: stomping, clanging drums and bluesy instruments over his husky, chanting voice.
Don’t be fooled by the husky voice. There’s also Waits’ soft side, which is showcased on songs like “Last Leaf” and “Pay Me.” Waits can blend his poetic lyrics with his tender side for many genuine moments.
Parts of the album even vaguely hearken back to Waits’ early jazz club days, as “Kiss Me” and “Chicago” weave in elements of jazz.
In many ways, Waits is an acquired taste. His whiskey-soaked voice doesn’t adhere to most musical scales at first glance. Though parts of his music can be jarring, it’s hard not to listen.
The sound roams from rock to blues to jazz and many place in between, but that’s vintage Waits. He blends musical styles into a cohesive whole better than anyone. “Hell Broke Luce” is the album’s most gruff-sounding song, but Waits easily follows it up with “New Year’s Eve,” a beautiful track that closes the album with the chorus of New Year’s favorite “Auld Lang Syne.”
There are stories about Waits shopping for obscure percussion instruments in hardware stores and junk heaps. Similarly, Waits expands his vocals into his own instrument to play with. While few choir teachers would openly welcome Waits into a classroom, he showcases a wide range of vocal styles.
He’s made a living for decades with what sounds like abuse to his vocal chords, but “Bad As Me” proves his voice is remarkably well-kept.
On the title track, Waits turns to more high-pitched vocals to supplement his signature gravely tones. Likewise, on “Get Lost” he stretches his voice to shrill peaks that blend with the backing horn section.
Despite his usual grit and distinctive tones, Waits ranges from delightfully subversive to heartbreaking and heartfelt.
“Bad As Me” may not attain the level of Waits classics like “Rain Dogs,” but it still features all the haunting and sincere elements expected since “Swordfishtrombones” when Waits turned toward a more experimental style with the help of wife and long-time collaborator Kathleen Brennan.
Waits is still the lovable eccentric — in the best way possible.
Other listens: Five of Tom
Looking for a taste of Tom Waits’ style. Here are 10 tracks from throughout his career.
•“Underground” on “Swordfishtrombones” 1983
•“9th and Hennepin” on “Rain Dogs” 1985
•“Tango Til They’re Sore” on “Rain Dogs” 1985
•“Chocolate Jesus” on “Mule Variations” 1999
“Goin’ Out West” on “Bone Machine” 1992