Sales of "Bad As Me", the new album from the legendary Tom Waits, have surpassed all expectations, giving him the highest chart debut of his entire 38-year career.
"Bad As Me", his first album of new material in 7 years, features the whiskey-voiced singer at the peak of a late-career resurgence initially sparked by "Mule Variations", released in 1999. Reviews for the album have been almost universally glowing. Speaking to NPR, He credits his wife and collaborator Kathleen Brennan with his recent success:
"I'm the other half of what I consider to be a really great songwriting team, which means that we argue a lot about what a song can be, should be, and what it'll be if you do this to it. So we discuss all these facets. She's Amelia Earhart and Jane Goodall and Joan Jett all rolled into one. She's really great to work with and amazing. She doesn't like the light of the business we call 'show.' She stays hidden, and that's where she likes it. But she's an amazing collaborator, and I feel like sometimes I have a map in my pocket that folds up and I pull it out and it's bigger than the table, and there's 1,000 places to go with her."
The new album also features a collaboration with Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones, a long-time Waits champion who also guested on his 1985 album "Rain dogs".
"There's nobody in the world like him. We wrote songs together for a while and that was fun. I had never really written with anybody besides my wife, so it was unique and a little scary at first. He doesn't really remember anything or write anything down. So you play for an hour and he would yell across the room, 'Scribe!' And I looked around. 'Scribe? Who's the scribe?' And he'd say it again, now pointing at me. I was supposed to have written down everything we said and dreamt of and played. And I realized we needed an adult in the room. I've never been the one that one would consider the adult. It was an interesting dynamic."
Tracks like "Raised Right Men" and "Satisfied" display the familiar gravel-voiced machismo Waits fans have come to expect, but on other cuts such as the stunning “Talking at the Same Time", he displays a surprisingly tender and effective falsetto. Atypical instruments, as usual, fill out the sound of the album, including the sound of chicken cooking on a barbecue, used to simulate the crackles and pops of an old vinyl recording.
Speaking about the need for reinvention, Waits has said, “It's very hard to stop doing things you're used to doing. You almost have to dismantle yourself and scatter it all around and then put a blindfold on and put it back together so that you avoid old habits.”