Like a madman, who doesn’t even allow his car a few seconds for the oil pressure light to extinguish itself before screaming down the street in a puff of smoke, Tom Waits begins his latest album with all cylinders firing and the pedal down – to the floor.
Bringing esoteric guitarist Marc Ribot along for the ride is a great touch, adding even more angst and tension to Waits rough voice.
The first track, “Chicago” lets us in for the dark ride that is in store. Clocking in at just 2:15, Waits ponders leaving home “with my coat and my hat” hoping things will be better in a strange land. Adding to the despair, he sings “we won’t have to say goodbye if we all go,” setting the mood for future creepiness.
Waits doesn’t disappoint. Most of the tracks on this record are dripping with despair as he moves from his trademark angry growl, to a restrained falsetto on track three, with Ribot’s out of phase guitar doused in reverb and a tinkly piano in the far distance only adding to the hopelessness as he tells us all the news is bad – “Is there any other kind?”
While the record is punctuated by percussive bursts, with bits of harp and harmonica mixed in on the periphery, there’s a spastic pace to the darkness. Much like an excellent horror movie that takes you right up to the edge of the violent bits without actually showing them, Bad as Me never goes so far as to get you to change the channel. However, it never gives you much of a break, either.
After the first third of the records somewhat violent tracks, Waits slows down for a couple of tracks (“Pay Me” and “Back in the Crowd”), but as soon you think it’s safe to take your seat belts off, it’s back to the madness with the title track – in which Waits waxes poetic about “grinding the gears when you’re trying to shift.”
Weaving through the rest of the tracks, the record ends with “New Years Eve,” a sad and subdued tune that suggests another change of scenery, this time for Las Vegas, leaving you to contemplate what the next adventure will be.