Nobody makes music quite like Tom Waits. For sheer inventiveness, originality and eccentricity, he is unrivalled, inhabiting a world all his own. ‘Bad As me’ is his seventeenth studio album and first in seven years, but it sounds like it has been around since music began.
Flitting between the forlorn, drunken, jazz-infused sentimentality of his early work and the bombastic, vaguely terrifying, troll-like stomping of his later repertoire, it’s odd and startling and quirky and boisterous, but it’s also incredibly beautiful and moving.
It begins with ‘Chicago’, a distorted, disturbed dystopian romp – a train full of clowns hurtling out of control into a black and white city – that shimmers with Waits’ rough-edged idiosyncrasies. ‘Get Lost’ is similarly manic, while the title track’s elongated, slowed down melody is a vision of surf rock as seen through the eyes of a depraved preacher long out of faith.
But on the other side of the coin, the ballads that Waits is a master of – the tragic, heartbroken, lonely 3am wanders around the empty, rainy streets of a city you used to know – are here, too. ‘Last Leaf’ is full of the unstoppable sadness found at the bottom of a whiskey bottle, ‘New Year’s Eve’ a typically wistful Waitsian recollection of days gone by, and ‘Kiss me’ a bar-room elegy full of romantic poignancy. They’re proof – once again – that nobody does pathos quite like Tom Waits. Because nobody makes music quite like Tom Waits. A work of pure, true genius.
Words by MISCHA PEARLMAN