Thursday, November 17, 2011

Review: Tom Waits - Bad As Me

"All Aboard!" hollers the familiar rusty voice, on the caboose of "Chicago", the album opener of Bad As Me, and we are invited to climb on Mr. Waits first collection of original material since 2004's Real Gone. Over the span of 45 minutes and 13 songs, we are given a guided holiday through the unique landscape of Waitsian geography. Working with familiar collaborators such as Marc Ribot, Keith Richards, and his wife Kathleen Brennan, Bad as Me works more as a retrospective than a pioneering expedition, shoring up of a unique musical vision like the banks Lake Ponchartrain.

On "Hell Broke Luce," Tom Waits asks "How many ways can you polish up a turd," and that seems to be a question that he has been investigating for over 30 years. Bad As Me doesn't really break any new ground, like Bone Machine, Swordfishtrombones, or Mule Variations, and at times it seems like he has settled, gotten comfortable, sedantary; a self-caricature, a cliche. But even at the very least, a Tom Waits record is full of intricacies and nuances, gilded to perfection with sublime production, engineering, arrangement. This is not pop music, it is not disposable. It is not meant to be gleaned upon initial contact and quickly forgotten. Every Tom Waits record i have ever heard has become like an old friend, one that you've gotten to know over the span of years, decades even. Complex, deep, like a character in a Raymond Carver short story. As you let the 13 songs of Bad As Me wash over you like the waves of a crystaline pond, its merits unfolds, and it is shown that while Tom is not breaking new ground every 15 seconds, like some rampaging infinite shopping mall, he is a master of his craft. It raises the interesting question of innovation vs. mastery, in this internet day and age, it seems like something has to be totally unique to be worthwhile, even if the innovations are trite, superficial, and even a bad idea. As long as its new... Its like the worst aspects of capitalism. The cult of the new.

Tom Waits has become an old friend for me. I first became aware of his music when Phish would play Mule Variations during set breaks when i was touring with the summer of 1998. His music was the definition of ODDBALL, willfully eccentric, beatnik heir. I appreciated it, but i did not necessarily like it, nor did i listen to it much, in my daily life. It was not until i found myself living in New Orleans, where he has spent much time, when i saw his wise loser mystic beatnik bohemian messiah saints and junkie angels in complex 4D, and his music was blaring from tinny speakers out of every other doorway, when it became REAL. It became comfortable, familiar. I was now living in his universe. I had a jockey full of bourbon and confetti in my hair. I had slipped a rung further down the ladder of madness, and found many heart-stopping moments of poignant inspiration. This music is not for children, it has been around the block a few hundred times. It is like the stray cat in yr neighborhood, that is missing an eye and has kitty herpes, but is sweet as can be, regal and beautiful.

After several dozen considerations, i have decided that Tom Waits has not become a caricature of himself. He is like a grizzled sailor on the Crow's Nest, facing backwards, taking stock of the flat expanse of dark water that he has traversed and travailed. He is shoring up, taking stock, catching his breath, and hopefully blowing minds for another 3 decades.

For those in the greater Portland area, tonight at the LaurelThirst Public House is TOM WAITS for NO ONE, the third annual. A $10 suggested donation, and all proceeds go to The Jeremy Wilson Foundation Musicians Healthcare Fund. A few of my friends will be playing, and it should pretty much be hella rad.!/events/314578821901112/

No comments:

Post a Comment