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Song of the day – 414: Tom Waits

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Tom Waits - Bad As Me

That phrase of Alex’s that I pulled from Facebook … it’s ridiculous, isn’t it?

“It’s the best kind of ‘more of the same”

Of course that’s not the only way to sum up Tom Waits’ new album Bad As Me. It’s one way, sure – and to anyone who enjoys the music of Tom Waits, the implicit is more important than the explicit. If you’re a fan, you don’t need more reassurance. (Although, if you’re a fan, you barely need more reassurance anyway. The whole of Tom Waits’ last two decades has been the best kind of ‘more of the same’. It’s difficult to believe now that, pre-Blue Valentine, he made patchy albums.) There again, as Hector Drone rightly points out in the comments to the above article, Tom Waits has reinvented himself at least three times, so the phrase is a little misleading. What kind of ‘more the same’? I don’t know man. I don’t want to get too close to Tom Waits. I love the music so much.

I also find myself nodding sagely in agreement with Alex when he states:

…you know what I love about Bad Like Me? You know what I really love? And this plays into the enigma thing. I love how unremarkable this album is.

It’s not the whole truth – nothing ever is – but it’s certainly some of it.

This is reassurance music for me. It’s music I listen to when I want to escape outside myself, when I want something I know I can solidly rely upon to entertain and uplift and intrigue me, when I want something that will make one side of my brain up and start jiving with the other side in woozy delirium. I’ve owned a couple of Tom Waits songbooks for piano for years and years now: I used to play his songs back in Brighton when I wanted to be in touch with that feeling of helplessness that would sweep over me the day after, every nerve screaming at how much it hated me but revelling in it. That’s misleading. What I mean is, the people and characters and moods and broad palette sweeps that colour his songs were supremely evocative to me (still are): evocative in way that few other lyrics are, that I could imagine myself in those situations with the dead-end waitress job and junkies dreaming of owning used car lots, that I’d even been in many of those situations. Romance, glory, but not in a mundane way. ‘Get Lost’: that’s very Chet Baker, isn’t it? The title track alone is greater than paradise.

Plus, those fucking wonderful kick-ass minor keys and lingering chords and little flicks of imagination! Man alive! Aren’t they worth learning how to play music for all by itself? Oddly, my wife has never been able to stomach Tom Waits on record (I’m still working on that), but she loves a whole ton of his songs, the way I sing them. They’re great songs. And, post-Blue Valentine, great interpretations. I’ll never forget my first listening experience of The Black Rider, in a small plane on the way to Boston, hit by lightning halfway through the flight. Yes. I was scared. I love the fascination with the arcane, the obscure, the off-key, the blues but not sepia blue like the blues is known.

And man, I would love to write a love song the way Tom writes a love song. (No. No. Actually, I wouldn’t. That’s for him.)

I see music in blocks, colours, shapes of text: a great song is like a particular formation on a chess board to me. The song linked above is the bishops and knights working their way through a graceful ballet, prickling and probing at the other player’s defences, pawns surreptitiously nudging up to opposing pawns, the king laughing at the supreme pointlessness of it all.  It’s not a fucking King’s Pawn opening, OK? Or maybe it is, but it’s one where every sacrifice has been turned down because the intrigue is way more appealing.

The tinkling piano certainly helps.

This is a really, really good album, this new Tom Waits album. When I’m down the gym, pretending that I can get fit and healthy like all the stay-home mums around me, I work out on the cross-trainer like I used to dance; fits and bursts of energy. Bad As Me is great for that.

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