Tom Waits, Mule Variations (1999)
I already liked Tom Waits but Mule Variations was the one that really hooked me. I had my favourites before (the sentimental favourite being Blue Valentine) but I’m pretty sure my favourite/go-to Waits album (now) is Mule Variations. I remember reviewing the album when it came out for Capital Times. I used to write a monthly column for the wee local rag and that turned in to some gig reviews and some CD reviews and Mule Variations was a fun album to write about. That opener, Big In Japan: the proud pisstake. And the gorgeous Hold On, one of my favourite songs by Waits (or by anyone). And of course the superb What’s He Building? It plays well over four sides of vinyl – a big blues album bursting with ideas and Tom Waits hasn’t (yet) bettered this album. He’s had a good decade on the back of this album, because of this album. I like some of the material that’s followed but now he’s back to “acting”; he has, to take from his own opener here, most certainly “got the style” but, it would seem, “not the grace”. There’s nothing, from a writing point of view that matches the material on Mule Variations (give or take one or two songs on Alice – the first couple of songs from that album in fact). But the gruff grunt and scrapyard percussive hooks continue to win people over. I still listen to Mule Variations a lot because, well, I like the variations. The ballads, blues and bonkers tunes. It has the style and the grace. It shows him as the actor and auteur. The guy fooling around in the scrapyard, tinkering with the toys that make the noise. And the guy who owns the property and has been collecting rent for 30 years or so. Good Saturday afternoon album. Real good Saturday afternoon album.
Sample Track: Get Behind The Mule
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