It turns out the whole batch of Laughing Stock LPs was defective and noisy as hell.
Maybe it was meant to be. Yesterday I had a choice to make between the new Tom Waits album (which Liam managed to get in the store before the official release date) and Talk Talk. My line of thinking was Tom will always be there, but neither of those last two Talk Talk albums are easy to come by on vinyl. But since the Ba Da Bing label (or whoever is cutting their records) seems to have a problem with making sure the vinyl they send out isn’t defective, today when I was returning the shit-sounding record I opted for Tom’s new album Bad as Me instead so I at least wouldn’t walk away empty-handed.
I don’t think the man has ever made a bad album. I’m not sure he knows how. Even the first few records I can’t really listen to — because Tom Waits without the gravel is just too weird for me — have some great songs on them. But I feel like this is maybe the best thing he’s done since Mule Variations came out back in 1999.
The rockers are twisted and infectious. The ballads are beautifully broken in that Waitsian way. Even the otherworldly falsetto voice he’s used sparingly over the years (once described by some brilliant person as being “beautiful like a supermodel aged way past her prime getting in a car crash”) pops up again. There’s also something really interesting about the way the grizzled voice of Keith Richards sounds a whole lot more mellifluous when it’s juxtaposed against Tom’s scorched vocal cords.
There’s one song that stands out by a mile, called “Hell Broke Luce”. Tom has put together some pretty unique — and uniquely unsettling — songs and soundscapes over the years, but he’s never done anything quite like this. It’s like a nightmare smashed into a song, and it’s a more effective anti-war message than any of the more overtly political war-related songs I can remember hearing. At the same time, it’s hard not to laugh at the insanity of it all, and there’s something wonderful about hearing the man with lungs of leather barking, “Big fucking ditches in the middle of the road. You pay a hundred dollars just for filling in the hole. Listen to the general, every goddamn word. How many ways can you polish up a turd?”
(Also, whoever came up with the idea to mash up Tom Waits and the Cookie Monster is an evil genius.)
It’s good to hear Tom is still Tom — the complete antithesis of everything pitch-corrected, generic, and polished to the point of sterility. Like most Tom Waits albums, the music sounds somehow low-fi and hi-fi at the same time. And who else writes lyrics like, “I sewed a little luck up in the hem of my gown,” and is a man, and can sing a line like that and make it sound weary and defeated instead of ridiculous?
The best part: the record itself sounds fantastic, in stark contrast to the abomination that is the Laughing Stock reissue. Ba Da Bing get a pass with me because they put out Epic, a great album by Sharon Van Etten, but right now I’m not too hopeful that even their non-defective vinyl will be too impressive.
Laughing Stock is on regular grade skinny vinyl, and supposedly it was mastered from the CD instead of any original master materials. That’s not encouraging. As soon as I pulled Bad as Me out of the sleeve, the difference in quality was astonishing. Here’s 180 gram vinyl you can almost tell will sound good just based on how serious it feels in your hand.
A little tip to labels everywhere: if you’re going to re-release an album that was immaculately recorded and is considered a masterpiece by more than a few people, you might want to make sure you do it right. Botching a classic will not win you any points with the people who care about the music. If you’re not prepared to treat it with respect, you shouldn’t be touching it at all.