Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Listen to the general every goddamn word/How many ways can you polish up a turd?

For the past week, subscribers to the Tom Waits mailing list have been receiving amusingly cryptic emails teasing about something coming on August 7:

A new album? we wondered.  A tour announcement?  Well, not so much, it turns out: it's actually a video for "Hell Broke Luce," the standout track from last year's Bad as Me, his twenty-something-ith album.  That may seem anti-climactic, but the fact remains, it's a very striking video indeed, full of surreal, nightmarish imagery that perfectly captures the spirit of the song.  You should watch it.

What's always struck me about this song is how unadornedly pissed off is.  That's not to say that it doesn't have a recognizable Tom Waits aesthetic ("Nimrod Bodfish, have you any wool?/Give me another body bag the body bag's full"), but he's never sounded this genuinely angry--and justly so--than he does in this brutal anti-war song.  When you think about it, you realize that for the most part, Tom doesn't really do angry.  Sure, he does deranged, which bears certain similarities, but it's not really the same thing.  You may point to songs like "God's away on Business" and "Starving in the Belly of a Whale" as counterexamples, but those are so theatrical--listening to them, you don't really believe that he spends all his time raging against an absent God, you know?  Whereas here, it seems really real.  

This isn't the first overtly topical song Tom's ever done: check out "The Day after Tomorrow" from Real Gone and "Road to Peace" from Brawlers, the former likewise about our Middle Eastern adventures, and the latter about the Israeli/Palestinian cycle of violence.  Those are in different registers, though.  The first (of which I'm not a big fan; it always seems overly tentative to me somehow) is more elegiac; the second is anguished; but here, he just sounds fed up.  As indeed what sane person wouldn't be? 

Do I have any point here?  Not really, beyond "Tom Waits is awesome," but that's kind of a given.  Bad as Me is fun, but as a whole, I wouldn't put it among the upper echelon of Waits albums.  If, god help you, you don't know the man's work, why not check out the three-disc Orphans, a mixture of old (but not previously released on any album) and new songs?  It's great.


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