75 Essential Albums – Day #6 Tom Waits – Mule Variations

Here goes with day 6 of my countdown of 75 Albums that in my opinion should have a place in everyones music collection.  They are not in any particular order though the top 10 will be my personal take on the top 10 albums ever released.  You might be surprised at some of my picks and some of my omissions.  Feel free to chime in with your comments and let me know if you love (or hate my choices).

Ok lets be frank here, Tom Waits isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.  There I said it.  His gruff throaty voice, his laconic and often maudlin lyrics turn many people off but (and its a huge but) very few people will ever write a song as good as Tom Waits’ very worst song. The songs on this album are far from Wait’s worst work in fact several tracks are right up there with his very best.

In my opinion Mule Variations is worth buying if the only good thing on the album was “Hold on”, one of my favourite tracks by anyone.  Who doesn’t love lyrics like “They put a sign up in our town, if you live it up you’ll never live it down” or “So he bought her a dime store watch and a ring made from a spoon”, classic Waits, clever insightful, cutting and witty.

The great tracks on this album are the slower ones “Pony,” “House Where Nobody Lives” and “Picture In a Frame” are all, in my opinion, up there amongst the great Waits tracks.  The album as a piece has that ‘one take recording’ feel of many of Waits best albums.  The production is sparse, no gimmicks and Waits is relaxed and confident, he is in good place.  Of course this is Tom Waits so the rattling percussion, the darkness, the aggression and the menace are all present.  It is perhaps this element that lead to ‘Hold on’ being used on the TV show ‘The Walking Dead’ recently something that has given the album a new lease of life.  More upbeat tracks like “Big in Japan,” “Filipino Box Spring Hog” and “Eyeball Kid” showcase Waits crazy and manic side.

Admittedly this may not be Waits greatest ever album but it is very very good and well worth the investment in time that will be required if the listener is to unearth the full reward from a top album.

Sing out here if you want to be heard!

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