Tom Waits – Bad As Me

TV Tropes, the venerable website that collates apocrypha from all sorts of pop culture, lacks, as far as I know, a trope along the lines of “Old of Awesome” – the point where a musician, greatly successful in younger life, accepts his (or possibly her but seriously now) age and makes an album of old-man music that conquers the old pretenses and calmly accepts the talents the artist possesses while accomplishing a small statement. This is such an album. Tom is old. He knows he’s old, and he’s okay with it, and he’s just writing and singing what he sees and thinks and feels. There isn’t too much trying or any cloying. Like Dylan’s “Love & Theft” and I’m sure other examples I’m too stupid to immediately recall.

Here is a late-life album, without crisis. There’s little old-fogeyism, just age. Tom decries a lack of “raised right men” or how everyone’s “talking at the same time” and yearns to “get lost” and get “back in the crowd.” Then he wants to be kissed by an old lover like she was a new one who feels like the last leaf on the tree. Most of those are song titles. The old questions stay, the old desires are still new. The atmosphere is all doing what he knows he can do: growly vocals backed with piano and horns and odd percussion slickly rough production and noir atmosphere.

Thing is, Tom does all this stuff really well. He knows he can do it well, so he’s doing it. Wham bam thank you ma’am. It’s a greatest tricks tour by a professional; a professional of solid talent. This is good shit. This is a solid album of a man accepting the stylistic motions (he’s too good to be just going through them) but singing of love and dreams and fear. Life is long, not short; it’s the longest thing any of us will ever experience. Rage, rage, against Dylan Thomas and an old man is a young man with an older body and greater experience and this is obviously and well reflected.

The problem isn’t with the material per se, just the lack of amazement. Every song ends with a feeling that this is good stuff. Uptempo or downtempo, the big lack is of a song that causes the joy of hearing “Way Down in the Hole” or “Nirvana” or “Come On Up to the House” – it’s all good, never great. Maybe I’m a Jew for wanting a single, but it’s how I feel. That said, it’s remarkably consistent. If you don’t like it you don’t love T-dub. This shit is thoroughly good. It’s not hit-or-miss; it’s mild hit, mild hit, mild hit, like a golfer hitting birdie after birdie. My favourite song is on the extra online songs, “Tell Me,” a nice little reflection on the questions that remain.

I love Tom Waits, and this is like spending a few more years with a partner you know and love. He’s older and wiser but the body and the performance are still there. Nothing new, but fuck. You’re one I love and we’re together. But I might wander. I might stray for younger pastures and you know that, but I still love you and I’d still miss your body and mind. Here’s to aging well; best of luck in your marriage and if I see you I’ll tell you to drink too much and you’ll tell me how you have responsibilities now. Not a vestigial tail, more like a glorious spandrel that too many don’t know how to appreciate.


8 / 10


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