For the past few weeks Waits has been streaming singles off his forthcoming album, Bad As Me. And after the title track release in August, most admit the second single released was unexpected (not that his fans have ever come to expect anything).
Back In The Crowd is all at once perfectly Waits and something different too. His voice, deeper and more gravelly than ever, runs awash with pained and crooning sentiment against the backdrop of fuzzy Spanish guitar work by David Hidalgo (Los Lobos) and longtime collaborator Marc Ribat.
Listen closely and you'll hear Hidalgo beating out a Latin clave rhythm with his wedding ring. Get swept up and you might discover the delivery has a quiet desperation with all the heart of a farewell after four decades of fearless adventurism for the bourbon-soaked, grotesque, seedy, and downtrodden.
Not that Waits is going anywhere. It just sounds like it. Back In The Crowd is a tears-held-back rendition of inviting someone to toss you back, no matter how dark and painful the decision might be.
"My father was an exhaust manifold and my mother was a tree." — Tom Waits
As his first studio album of all new music in seven years, much like Back In The Crowd suggests, Bad As Me does refine what has come before but not without Waits' keen ability to add the unexpected. As always, most of the songs are lean and mean. But only Waits can explain why you can't hear too much yet.
Of course, this isn't exactly true. Some of the collection will stream on his site, complete with his undeniably muddled and packed-with-meaning lyrics. Both Bad As Me and Back In The Crowd made their appearance as the singles were released. The lyrics can be found here. They are straightly fashioned on the surface.
Not that it matters when you can't find new ones. You can listen to any number of tracks from the past. And through it all, Waits croaks, swoons, crows, and croons while having a genuinely good time. It has been part of his charm for as long as I can remember. He never felt a need to be mainstream.
Even in 1973, after several failed attempted to produce his first album, Waits was positively received but kept in the background and blurry until other artists started covering his work. It took another decade before Rain Dogs would blow over any doubters. And he wasn't done yet.
"The moon ain't romantic. It's intimidating as hell." — Tom Waits
The strength of Waits can be summed as his undeniable ability to write under covered slices of life, frequently single moments frozen in time with impeccable details. And, equally powerful, his uncanny ability to pour himself, fully emotive, into his work.
All too common, most artists are compared to others in order to be defined. That's not Waits because everything comes from his own travelogue. It's his life and nobody but he can live it the way he does.
Back In The Crowd And Bad As Me Dig Up 8.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.
Bad As Me deserves to be an anticipated album, one that revives and reintroduces the idea of being your own artist. That's what the album is really about, despite its ability to draw out more metaphors from reviewers than anything covered since the last Waits album.
Right now, Back In The Crowd and Bad As Me are available on iTunes as singles. Or, you can preorder the album, which is due out October 25. If you do preorder, make sure you purchase the deluxe edition, with three bonus tracks. You can also preorder the Bad As Me [limited deluxe edition] on Amazon. The CD is available at Barnes & Noble.