Ben’s Brilliant Best Albums of the 1990s. No. 89.

Tom Waits

Mule Variations

What’s your least favourite Tom Waits song?

Mine is ‘What’s He Building?’ Everyone else loves it but I don’t. I hate it. It is just stupid sub-horror silly-scary-voice talking over some clunking nonsense or other. It’s pantomime.

What’s your favourite Tom Waits song?

That’s a harder question, isn’t it? There are a lot more good ones than bad ones. I don’t think I could ever definitively answer it. However, on any given day I might plump for ‘Hold On’ or ‘Come on Up to the House’ or even ‘Picture in a Frame’, all three of which are on Mule Variations.

But then, so is that bloody awful ‘What’s He Building?’ song. What I’m saying is, Mule Variations isn’t perfect.

It is great though. Tom Waits was pretty much untouchable in the 70s and 80s. From the weirdly beautiful jazz-tinged early albums to the beautifully weird noisescapes of his later ones, almost everything was brilliant. In the 90’s his music went, perhaps, a tad too shouty bangy, but he reined it in a bit when he made Mule Variations (before once more setting off on the shouty bangy road). Mule Variations has stompy ones, but they are good stompy ones, and the ballads are among his best.

A Mule Variations without ‘What’s He Building?’ (and maybe ‘Eyeball Kid’ while we’re at it) would be much higher on my list, but they’re there, so it’s here, at no. 89.