Bad As Me: Tom Waits's first all-new studio album in 7 years

Bad As Me, Tom Waits's first studio album of new music in seven years, was released yesterday. I'm an enormous Tom Waits fan and never met an album of his I didn't love, but I love some of the material more than others -- in general, I'm fonder of his noisier, faster, more dramatic stuff, and less enamored of the ballad-y numbers. Bad As Me leans more towards the ballads, and they're awfully sweet and sad, but for me, the standout track is Hell Broke Luce, an anti-war song that is pure gotterdammerung and may be my new all-time-fave Tom Waits track. Anti-, Waits's label, actually has some pretty good copy explaining the album's appeal:

From the opening horn-fueled chug of “Chicago,” to the closing barroom chorale of “New Year’s Eve,” Bad As Me displays the full career range of Waits’ songwriting, from beautiful ballads like “Last Leaf,” to the avant cinematic soundscape of “Hell Broke Luce,” a battlefront dispatch. On tracks like “Talking at the Same Time,” Waits shows off a supple falsetto, while on blues burners like “Raised Right Men” and the gospel tinged “Satisfied” he spits, stutters and howls. Like a good boxer, these songs are lean and mean, with strong hooks and tight running times. A pervasive sense of players delighting in each other’s musical company brings a feeling of loose joy even to the album’s saddest songs.


  1. My favorite Waits track of all time is the jazzy “Step Right Up” from “Small Change”.  It’s got a killer bass line, great sax, and great lyrics including one of my all time favorite lines “The large print giveth, and the small print taketh away”.    If you haven’t heard this song, definitely check it out. 

    1. Re: “My favorite Waits track of all time is the jazzy “Step Right Up” from “Small Change”. ”

      ME TOO!

      I really like the album ‘Nighthawks at the Diner”.

  2. Agreed. Hell Broke Luce absolutely kills. While I generally think just about anything Waits does is better than almost everything else, I don’t think he has done anything particularly remarkable since Bone Machine. And yeah, Ribot is great on this one.

  3. Hot damn… a new Tom Waits release to wrap myself in for the cold months like a torn and tattered blanket that has been missing for the last few years and you don’t know where the hell it’s been. (is that the smell of anise and witch hazel?)

  4. “Waits shows off a supple falsetto”

    What, so he can actually reach the bass range?

    (said with utmost love)

  5. Write ups of Tom Waits material, and other artists remind me of reading art critiques.  In the end, either you get it or you don’t, and no amount of flowery language or effervescent phrases are going to convince anyone that it’s “good” to your ears (or eyes).  I’d like to be with the same league with the hipster geek chique crowd that swoons over anything he does, but frankly, it sounds wholly uninteresting to me, which I assume makes me instantly intellectually inferior because I don’t “get it”, but that’s ok.  I can appreciate the artistry, but that’s about it.  Excuse my I go watch the episode of American Chopper I missed last night…

    1. I’d like to be with the same league with the hipster geek chique crowd that swoons over anything he does, but frankly, it sounds wholly uninteresting to me, which I assume makes me instantly intellectually inferior because I don’t “get it”, but that’s ok.

      Where to begin?  First, “chic” is already a French word, so you don’t need to froggify it by adding a “que” to the end.

      Second, I imagine there are quite a few old farts like myself who have been following Waits’ career for 20+ years and swoon over the plupart of his oeuvre, we don’t generally give a rodent’s sphincter if others find it distasteful, annoying or bad.  In fact, the die hards kinda cringe at the folks we suspect of being into him solely for the cache dropping his name brings.  I imagine we’re a bit protective in the way we used to be protective of the neighborhood bar that suddenly became the new hipster hangout.   Then again, we’re also happy to see our hero infiltrate the mainstream with a careful tippytoe and not become either Rod Stewart or Don Henley, both of whom have covered Waits’ tunes.  So, you are correct that it’s OK if you don’t “get it,” but to think that I think that makes you intellectually inferior is more likely fanciful projection on your part.

      Third, it’s the job of the scribe at the label to come up with the gobbledegook in those press releases.  I’ve written a few of them before and it’s a Dirty Job that will never make it on that reality show, which I believe is on the same station as American Chopper.  I always felt like I needed a bath to get all the flowery language off me anyway.  There’s an easy parallel to be made between appreciating building a motorcycle and appreciating a new Tom Waits record, but I’ve babbled enough already.

    1. Looks like at the moment you can only spotify the eff out of the title track, so thanks for the link!

  6. Glad to hear we’re all on the same page on Hell Broke Luce. I was loving the album up to that point, but the lyrics (and all else,) in that song floored me. “Glanced at her shins, she said ‘nope.'”

  7. When I finally told my friends that I didn’t like Tom Waits, the look on their faces where as though they watched me throw a burlap sack full of rocks and unwanted puppies into a pond.

    Nothing to see here folks. Move along. 

  8. I’m also a huge, huge fan, and its great to see David Hidalgo playing with him again (if you haven’t heard the first Latin Playboys album, go find it NOW). I’m more of a sucker for the ballads myself – I think “New Year’s Eve” is my favorite track so far – but I admire the hell out of “Hell Broke Luce.” All-time best track? Has to be “Jockey Full of Bourbon.”

    1. Man, I was lucky enough to catch the Latin Playboys when they toured after the Dose record.  It was a great show.  And I think I’m with you on “Jockey Full of Bourbon.”  One of the best guitar solos ever.

  9. I posted this brief review on a private group for former Moggers over on FB:

    Tom Waits “Bad As Me”. Stand out tracks (so far) “Chicago”, “Talking at The Same Time”, “Bad As Me”,  “Hell Broke Luce” . Some of the album is standard TW fair, by no means break out stuff, I count only one track I just didn’t make it through. One or two tracks almost seemed regressive to his “Nighthawks” days. I love TW, and have every album, but I’d love to see him do more stuff like “Hell Broke Luce” which are kind of out of step from the “Grim Reapers and Big Weepers” he’s known for. At times he touches on the brilliance of Bone Machine or Rain Dogs and Swordfish Trombones, other times he falls into his own contrivances. Probably the best thing he’s released since Mule Variations, some great songs, a couple tracks are destined to be even better covers. It’s a starter album for future Tom Waits fans, grist for the mill for us stalwarts. In other words, if you like him, buy it.

  10. “What Is………. Your Favorite Tom Waits Track!”
    “Jockey Full of Bourbon!…..

    ….No! Wait… Johnsburg, Illin–AAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh”   {hurls off bridge}

  11. ‘Bad as Me’ isn’t a total embarrassment, but pretty thin gruel, with a couple of chunks of savory meat. It’s not easy to live up to some of the brilliant stuff he has done in the past. I’m glad he’s still writing and making music.

  12. You should look for covers of his songs, which are almost everywhere. Tori Aos does a good job with “Time,” and there’s Rod Stewart’s version of “Downtown Train” if Rod the Mod is more your speed (though Waits’ original version has this sad/creepy stalker element to it that destroys Stewart’s cover of the song, in my opinion). Each season of _The Wire_ did a version of “Down in a Hole.” I concede that his voice/sound is not for everyone, but he is a master songwriter, one of America’s best. Perhaps you can access his stuff on a frequency that’s more enjoyable for your ears. 

    1. Everything But The Girl: Downtown Train

      I could see Waits fans hating this. 
      But I’ve never wanted to marry a voice more than Tracey Thorn’s.

  13. ☐ I love Tom Waits and everything he has done.

    ☐ I loved Tom Waits right up until Swordfishtrombones, why did he have to go and get weird on me.

    ☐ I don’t like Tom Waits but I understand that taste is subjective and that some people do.

    ☐ I don’t like Tom Waits and I don’t understand how anybody else could, they must just be hipster poseurs.

    ☐ Unlike 99% of Internet users commenting on the new album I do not fit into one of the four categories above.

  14. Honestly, my first exposure to Waits was “Mule Variations.” At the time (I was in college) it kind of worked for me, but not enough for me to seek out more. Then years later I was listening to NPR, and heard Waits being interviewed about his new album “Real Gone”. They played a couple tracks, and I was sold on that album. I went out and bought it, and I’ve broken it out every autumn since. And really, that’s pretty much all the Waits I need. I still think he’s a hell of an awesome guy–love seeing him pop up in films now and again, and his collaboration on the track “Spacious Thoughts” is perfect. I actually gave “Bad As Me” a listen the other night, and I think I may end up exploring it further. So for those of you looking for the opinion of someone who is not a Waits purist, not a die hard, and not a hipster–well, I submit this post. It’s just music, folks.

  15. Waits-trivia fans will also note that “Hell Broke Luce” features guitars by Keith Richards and bass by Flea. 
    And yeah, it is one of the best Waits track I’ve heard in a long time. The whole album is good ; I don’t like it as much as, say, The Black Rider, but I think it’ll grow on me.

    Best TW song ever ? That’s a hard one…I’d say “Just the Right Bullets” for the screamers, “Alice” or “Burma-Shave” for the ballads, and “What’s he Doing in There” for maximal weirdness.

  16. It’s not about “getting” or “not getting” Tom Waits. This album isn’t particularly good. Of his last four (excluding the compilation discs) this one is the weakest. There are some interesting innovations in the instrumentals. But it sounds like TW let the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame go to his head. The album sounds more like rock and less like artistry.

  17. if you’re going to write german words and do not have access to umlauts (although my guess is that, if you’re writing articles for boingboing, you have a mac, in which case alt+u is all you need), you need to replace the umlaut with an e: goetterdaemmerung.

    if you’re gonna get fancy, you gotta get it right.

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