For his 20th studio album, Tom Waits’ wife and longtime musical collaborator, Kathleen Brennan, advised the gravelly voiced Rock and Roll Hall of Famer to keep it simple. No long, winding epic songs about soldiers at war, no massive, meandering epics. “Get in, get out. No fucking around,” Waits told Pitchfork. Much of Bad as Me sticks to this modus operandi, especially its best tracks like quick, horn-led opener “Chicago,” the hiccuping, rollicking “Get Lost” and monster single “Bad as Me.” Bottling Waits’ overflowing personality and unusual voice serves to make it that much more frenetic and affecting.
Elsewhere, he stretches out, but only a little, with the help of his son Casey on drums, longtime collaborators Marc Ribot (guitar) and Les Claypool (bass), and various other big names like Keith Richards, Flea, Ben Jaffe and Daivd Hidalgo. Indeed, even when he tries to keep it simple, Bad as Me turns into a bit of a production. Like any get together, certain parties (the appropriately titled “New Year’s Eve”) overstay their welcome while others (“Satisfied,” which features Richards and references one of his, ahem, other songs) are raucous and enjoyable. Indeed, the whole thing is a bit ramshackle, but when he listens to his wife, Bad as Me is as good as anything Waits has ever done.