TOM WAITS: Matt Mahurin has created an apocalyptic war dream to accompany the song HELL BROKE LUCE. Kathleen and I envisioned it as an enlightened drill sergeant yelling the hard truths of war to a brand new batch of recruits. The video grew from the gnawing image of a soldier pulling his home, through a battlefield, at the end of a rope. I think you will agree, it’s uplifting and fun.”
PREVIOUSLY: Tom Waits has become the secret handshake of cool — either you know it or you don’t, and after 20 albums, if you still have to ask you’ll most likely never know. Me? I’m a lifer. True story: Back in college I borrowed 1985?s Rain Dogs from the public library and got so lost in its lurid tales of the depraved, the derelict and the dispossessed camping on the wrong side of the tracks in Reagan’s Morning in America that I didn’t return it for a year and a half.
When I finally brought it back, I was banned for life. All told, it was worth it. I mention all this because Bad As Me sounds like welcome echo of Rain Dogs‘ spellbinding urban magic realism. Both albums are fulcrums effortlessly balancing all that has come before — the-piano’s-been-drinkin’ drollery of the Asylum years and the cinematic sweep and lump-in-your-throat sentimentalism of the Coppola soundtrack years — with all that comes after: the creepers and the weepers, the keepers (Bone Machine, Mule Variations) minus the sleepers (Alice and Black Rider).
We start off on a runaway downtown train, careening through the through the slaughter houses and gin joints of “Chicago.” Then we’re wading through the fevered, hoodoo swamps of “Raised Right Man.” On “Everybody’s Talking At The Same Time” we’re tooling down the lost highway of some forgotten David Lynch movie in a vintage convertible with tail fins and Laura Dern and Nicholas Cage fucking in the backseat. “Get Lost” sounds like the theme song for some X-rated Elvis movie Jim Jarmusch should’ve directed, some Ann Margaret required. “Kiss Me” is easily the greatest non-silly love song since Barry met White. The warped, wild-eyed tango of the title track — powered by Rain Dogs alum Marc Ribot’s switchblade guitar — sounds like the greatest song Screaming Jay Hawkins never recorded. There’s a savage, sideways-marching post-war G.I. blues called “Hell Broke Luce” (“I left my arm in my coat!”) that manages the neat trick of supporting the troops while cursing the war pigs that pay them to kill and be killed.
Every song feels like it’s happening at the stroke of midnight, which is pretty much how it ends. It’s “New Year’s Eve.” The streets are streaked with dirty rain and neon and steam’s coming out of the ground like the whole goddamn town is about to blow. There’s gunfire and then sirens. We duck into a bar where nobody brings anything bigger than a fiver and run into the same crowd we met “In The Neighborhood” midway through SwordFishTrombones. It’s good to see the old gang again. It’s been a long time, and we’re all just a little bit older and a little bit colder. By now, everybody has figured out the dice were loaded and everybody knows the good guys lost. But at least we still have each other, until death do us part. Not that we have much choice. Thirty years after Reagan, it’s midnight in America and we’re all beautiful losers now. – JONATHAN VALANIA
PREVIOUSLY: The Man Who Howled Wolf