Mule Variations

Mule Variations

5.0 2
by Tom Waits
     
 

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If Tom Waits were to start a religion, it'd no doubt qualify as a cult. Although he's attracted a small but fervent group of adherents over the past two decades, his uniquely skewed amalgam of folk, blues, rock, and Tin Pan Alley standards has mostly escaped the notice of the wide world of mainstream music. That said, there's no need to preach to the converted: MULE… See more details below

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Overview

If Tom Waits were to start a religion, it'd no doubt qualify as a cult. Although he's attracted a small but fervent group of adherents over the past two decades, his uniquely skewed amalgam of folk, blues, rock, and Tin Pan Alley standards has mostly escaped the notice of the wide world of mainstream music. That said, there's no need to preach to the converted: MULE VARIATIONS, Waits's first album of new material in six years, offers more of the gruffly evocative vocals, clanging rhythms, and angular instrumentation that have been his stock-in-trade since the release of his groundbreaking and influential 1983 work, SWORDFISHTROMBONES. This time around, Waits continues to break the rules and challenge the listener, not to mention his peers; this iconoclast's influence on other musicians is at once sweeping and subtle. But for those who scratch their heads at the found sounds, distorted vocals, and studio shenanigans that characterize Waits's work, it might help to think of him as a musical auteur -- songwriter, singer, and sonic sorcerer, an abstract expressionist who refuses to color within the lines. One never knows what will appear on the sonic canvas when Waits is through throwing paint, but it's always sure to be intriguing.

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Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Tom Waits grew steadily less prolific after redefining himself as a junkyard noise poet with Swordfishtrombones, but the five-year wait between The Black Rider and 1999's Mule Variations was the longest yet. Given the fact that Waits decided to abandon major labels for the California indie Epitaph, Mule Variations would seem like a golden opportunity to redefine himself and begin a new phase of his career. However, it plays like a revue of highlights from every album he's made since Swordfishtrombones. Of course, that's hardly a criticism; the album uses the ragged cacophony of Bone Machine as a starting point, and proceeds to bring in the songwriterly aspects of Rain Dogs, along with its affection for backstreet and backwoods blues, plus a hint of the beatnik qualities of Swordfish. So Mule Variations delivers what fans want, in terms of both songs and sonics. But that also explains why it sounds terrific on initial spins, only to reveal itself as slightly dissatisfying with subsequent plays. All of Waits' Island records felt like fully conceived albums with genuine themes. Mule Variations, in contrast, is a collection of moments, and while each of those moments is very good (some even bordering on excellent), ultimately the whole doesn't equal the sum of its parts. While that may seem like nitpicking, some may have wanted a masterpiece after five years, and Mule Variations falls short of that mark. Nevertheless, this is a hell of a record by any other standard. Waits is still writing terrific songs and matching them with wildly evocative productions; furthermore, it's his lightest record in years -- it's actually fun to listen to, even with a murder ballad here and a psycho blues there. In that sense, it's a unique item in his post-Swordfish catalog, and that may make up for it not being the masterpiece it seemed like it could have been.

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Product Details

Release Date:
04/20/1999
Label:
Anti
UPC:
0045778654710
catalogNumber:
86547
Rank:
3368

Related Subjects

Tracks

  1. Big in Japan  - Tom Waits
  2. Lowside of the Road  - Tom Waits
  3. Hold On  - Tom Waits
  4. Get Behind the Mule  - Tom Waits
  5. House Where Nobody Lives  - Tom Waits
  6. Cold Water  - Tom Waits
  7. Pony  - Tom Waits
  8. What's He Building in There  - Tom Waits
  9. Black Market Baby  - Tom Waits
  10. Eyeball Kid  - Tom Waits
  11. Picture In A Frame  - Tom Waits
  12. Chocolate Jesus  - Tom Waits
  13. Georgia Lee  - Tom Waits
  14. Filipino Box Spring Hog  - Tom Waits
  15. Take It With Me  - Tom Waits
  16. Come On Up To The House  - Tom Waits

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