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Tom Waits – Bad as Me

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The sandpaper-voiced sultan of spookery gets down with his bad self on the first album proper since 2004’s Real Gone . Fans had been satiated with the fantastic three-disc rarity box Orphans: Brawlers Bawlers and Bastards and the live set Glitter and Doom but a new Tom Waits album still feels like an event. Happily this one delivers in rust-coloured spades with the 60-year-old sounding as gleefully evil as ever.

Once again Waits has assembled a skeleton crew to help create the time-out-of-mind sound swirling around in his bourbon-soaked skull. From six-string squiggler Marc Ribot to harmonica mastermind Charlie Musselwhite Waits’s son Casey on the kit and chuckleheads Flea and Les Claypool trading off on bass the backing band is rock solid. Even Keef Richards returns to the mix for the first time since ’92’s Bone Machine .

The lyrical threads here are loving and leaving as Waits conjures soldiers stage performers and star-crossed Bonnie and Clydes. His destination sounds final as he sighs “The only way down from the gallows is to swing” atop melancholy accordion on “Pay Me” but this old dog’s still got bite. Standout “Get Lost” has New Orleans second-line strut as Waits nods to Wolfman Jack and sounds like a wolf himself as he leers “When you wear that real tight sweater you know I can’t resist.”

Answering the Stones on “Satisfied” Waits snarls out haunting images: “Roll my vertebrae out like dice / Let my skull be a home for the mice / Let me bleach like the bones on a beach / I’ll be hard like a pit from a peach.” Taking aim at the present day barroom pianos and film noir guitars soundtrack “Talking at the Same Time” as Waits opines “Well we bailed out all the millionaires / They’ve got the fruit / We’ve got the rind.” No matter the topic this gravelly voice remains entirely relevant.

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