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Mule Variations
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Product Description

After Tom Waits's six-year stint indulging in other artistic endeavors, hearing his familiar growl is like revving up a beloved old motorcycle after driving around in an SUV. The hard-earned wisdom and arcane sensibilities of this set make it one of strongest releases of his entire eclectic catalog. --Matthew Cooke

Seven years passed between the release of Bone Machine and Mule Variations. During that time Tom Waits eschewed cutting another "conventional" (the term used loosely here) song collection, occupying his time with acting projects, a soundtrack (Night on Earth), a stage project (The Black Rider), and sundry smaller diversions. What's surprising about Mule Variations is how little he's strayed from the old Bone yard through the years. As with his Grammy-winning 1992 outing, Waits intersperses the tough and the tender, mixing exercises in creative noisemaking with tunes that fall on just the right side of maudlin. As with Bone Machine's "The Ocean Doesn't Want Me," "What's He Building?" is an experiment in word jazz that owes a debt to its creator, Ken Nordine. Waits has again assembled a crew of attuned sidemen (including Primus and steadfast backers Ralph Carney, Larry Taylor, and Joe Gore). And, as always, Waits and his wife-cosongwriter-coproducer Kathleen Brennan exhibit an uncanny ear for the arcane. In the end, Mule Variations is the aural equivalent of a salvage shop that, while largely familiar, still has a few secluded chambers and trap doors. --Steven Stolder

Customer Reviews:

  • "You Better Hold On(This CD is great)"
    A great CD!!!. I do not know if there are any words to describe the greatness of Waits music and Lyrics. Mule Variations delivers!! A great disc and a must have for anyone who appreciates music of any kind!!!...more info
  • A "memory" album
    I can't convince myself that Mule Variations is a great Tom Waits album, Swordfishtrombones, Bone Machine and Rain Dogs are all superior. Still, this is the one that sticks with me. In the summer of '99 I was in love and travelling through Europe with some great friends. This album became the soundtrack for all our adventures. It is more romantic than the previous mentions and does a great job of establishing a rapport with listeners. It helped me to see the humanity in Tom Waits, and it gave me something to relate to in someone who I had previously seen as a wild Uber-hipster. I don't know if it was the timing, or what, but I hope others can enjoy this album the way I have....more info
  • Formulaic Tom Waits?
    That's what it sounds like to me. With the exceptions of "Cold Water," "Filipino Box Spring Hog," and "Come on up to the House," there's not much of interest here. Contrast this album with his great stuff (from Swordfishtrombones to Bone Machine) - it just doesn't match up. The ballads especially, while pretty, are boring and cause no emotional response (unlike his good ballads like "A Little Rain" from Bone Machine). Somehow I knew this album was not that good, which is why I held off buying it for over a year. Tom's stint as America's premier original musical genius might be done. Or maybe he can still turn it around, as there's still a couple of brilliant songs here....more info
  • Richness of life
    These are songs full of such depth and feeling. Tom Waits is an extraordinary talent who takes snapshots of life at times disturbing and at times beautiful, but always moving. One grows to understand amusing facets of life and new twists on old emotions. Just when the listener is taken to the edges of despair and sorrow, she is lifted to heights beyond expectations.
    I hear sounds that I didn't know existed when I listen to Waits.

    Perhaps that is what I love best in the wonderful music of Waits. The music mirrors life with all its ups and downs. Somehow within it all one sees or feels the richness and variety and discovers profundity in it.

    Waits is a highly enjoyable talent constantly breaking boundaries, ultimately to the listener's delight. Buying this album is no waste....more info

  • Great Waits in all his styles!
    This great album opens with Big In Japan, a humorous number in bluesy style with brilliant guitar and innovative arrangement, which is followed by the slow, eerie Lowside Of The Road, a real hangover song with striking imagery.

    Hold On is a typical sad Waits ballad, which means it's beautiful, tuneful and moving. It has an unusually light rhythm and melody though, unlike some of his other masterpiece ballads like for example In The Neighbourhood or Saving All My Love For You. House Where Nobody Lives is unique too, another gripping ballad with moving words and images. It makes me think of both Mansion On The Hill by Springsteen and the old classic Satisfied Mind.

    All Waits' styles are in glorious display including the talking blues of Get Behind The Mule and the deep bluesrock of ballads like Come On Up To The House and Cold Water. For someone who prefers his ballads and his singing voice, I find both quite appealing. The next track, Pony, is another one of my favorite slow melodic numbers embellished with exquisite pump organ, dobro and harp.

    This album certainly lives up to its name with its astonishing variety, like the spooky spoken track What's He Building and the story songs Black Market Baby and Eyeball Kid with its innovative samples and percussion. Waits even explores his Beefheartian side on Filipino Box Spring Hog. There's also the gentle love song Picture In A Frame with its elegant piano and the sorrowful country song Georgia Lee.

    Mule Variations is a masterpiece of an album that contains impressive, timeless songs of great lyrical depth, melodic beauty and stylistic variety. Whether you like Waits as a phenomenon by himself or whether you like only certain of his styles, this album will not disappoint as it offers enough brilliance for everybody....more info

  • Don't Wait for Tom
    The guy can't sing a note, he should be doing sound effects for Briggs and Stratton and he needs major polyp surgery on his vocal chords. But man, I could listen to his stuff all day.

    ...more info
  • New to Tom and Love This CD
    I was first introduced to Tom Waits on the Dead Man Walking CD. When I listened to DMW I often skipped his music. One day I finally listened and there began my love affair. And, yet even knowing I was listening to a large talent I didn't buy any of his CD's for several years. He was a little edgy on Dead Man Walking and I really thought a full CD might be too much. Was I wrong. I've only had Mule Variations for a few days and can't stop listening to it. His songs continue to resonate in my head when I'm not listening to his work. What a talent. Tom when are you coming to Tucson??? I want to see you live... and how about some DVD's?

    I recommend this CD won't be disappointed....more info
  • No Funny Any More
    Anyone who doesn't notice a major decline in Tom Waits since the 80s is in need of counselling. He is rewriting himself endlessly, and it ain't funny any more. He has no new musical ideas, and especially he has no tunes any more, and he appears to be successfully covering that up by using the patent Sound of the Primeval Soup routine on every track, which has the effect of making the thing superficially aurally attractive. But, for instance, Eyeball kid is a rewrite of 16 Shells, and when you look at the lyrics of House Where Nobody lives, you have to wonder - this from a guy who wrote three whole albums (Swordfishtrombones, Raindogs & Frank's Wild Years) where almost every line was a jewel. He drops into his sentimental-barroom mode on three occasions, and never gets within a country mile of Soldier's Things or Jonestown Illinois or... you name em. The chorus of approval given to this album is proof that most people are happy to be persuaded of something they want to believe. Truth is that right now Tom Waits is played out....more info
  • ...the world is not my home, I'm just a'passing through
    A lot of people, well more than one, don't like this album... Why!?!
    'because it dosen't dosen't sound like Tom Waits used to'?
    It's called evolution, look into it.
    The weak die out,(Rico Suav'e, Tiffany) while the strong survive and propagate.
    I love the old Tom Waits; Closing Time, Nighthawks at the Diner, and a personal fave, Small Change. But there comes a time when he has to branch out and grow, or die! You might stumble occasionaly, Blood Money comes to mind, but...
    I, for one, think the progression is going quite nicely.
    Tom Waits proves that...more info
  • The dice is laughin at the man that he throwed
    Been listening to Tom Waits on and off since I saw him one time in the Olympia Theatre in Dublin in the 80s, doing his Franks Wild Years routine. Halfway through he tells his band to smoke a cigarette, switches off all the lights and stands there all alone with this electric miner's lamp up against his face. Smokes a cigarette himself, right there on stage. He goes on to belt out in his unbelievable voice a couple of songs that just about tore down the whole damn house--looked like some sort of crazy-haired Dean Stockwell in Blue Velvet so he did. Said a funny thing too about New York, said it's a great town for shoes! Been thinking about Mister Waits again coz I've been listening to Mule Variations all morning, mostly that song Cold Water which I can't honestly get enough of or over even. Talk about yer doghouse blues! The sure touch of Sam Beckett in this number is echoed in the great photo of Tom on the back of the album, the one with him in the long black overcoat holding the umbrella. Begob but this felly is just the dead spit of how I've always pictured Mercier! Not that it makes a blind bit of difference mind you but I like to think so. Mule Variations plays very well with Bone Machine and both beef up right brawny like when hammered out at high volume. ...more info
  • Mule Variations- Another Waits Classic
    I always loved Mr Waits' early music - Closing Time, Heart of Saturday Night,Small Change etc, and then I went and bought Mule Variations and I was hooked. Every single track is outstanding. Big in Japan and Filipino Box Spring Hog are a blast, the blues beauty of Get Behind The Mule and Lowside of the Road, the tearful brilliance of Pony, Picture in a Frame, Take it With Me and Georgia Lee, the eerie wonder of What's He Building in There. . . . a classic Waits album....more info
  • "Mule Variations" - 16 Tracks In From The Wilderness
    Oh, God... Tom Waits beats us into submission yet again with "Mule Variations," his latest album, and we thank him for his tender attentions. Tom has held a special place in my cruel heart ever since I heard his version of "Heigh Ho" on Hal Wilner's "Stay Awake!" With "Mule Variations," Tom returns in full "Bone Machine" form after years in the wilderness of various other media.

    From the tender dirge "Hold On" and the fractured rant of "Big In Japan" to the ironic(!) commentary of the spoken "What's He Building?" and "Chocolate Jesus," it's apparent that Tom still feels impelled to relate to the rest of us by crying out with the grief-stricken wryness of a midieval minstrel reincarnated as a crippled hyena. And we love every weird second of it, don't we?

    Take one look at the cover and I think you'll understand why I think of Tom Waits as a gin-mad carnival-barker who got booted while in the middle of an anthropology-major a thousand years ago after drinking one too many magic Kool-Aids and soon after got driven half-insane by forty days and nights in some plague-stricken wasteland outside Las Vegas before finally stumbling into a recording studio. Better him than me, I guess.

    Thank you, Tom for this harrowing journey into the heart of alienation and foul redemption. Don't be such a stranger, okay?...more info

  • Mule Variations
    Tom Waits-Mule Variations *****

    Mule Variations just might be Waits' all time best album, it certainly is his best since Rain Dogs. I say this because I don't feel that since Rain Dogs has he covered as much ground as he did with Mule Variations to this level of quality. This is both a very dark and hallow album, and yet a sort of positive and up-lifting album all at the same time. The lyrical content is amazing, both Waits and his wife Kathryn have done a fabulous job here. The musicianship, though mostly from the guys in Primus is remarkably fresh, considering the odd instrumentation.

    Songs like the albums opener, 'Big In Japan' show the hilarity in Waits' music that fans have come to know over the years, while the minimalistic 'Lowside Of The Road' and 'Get Behind The Mule' show his stories of the downtrodden will always have a place in his heart of hearts. The Spoken jazz of 'Whats He Building?' is classic, while for me personally, 'Eyeball Kid' marks new ground for Waits.

    Whats especially notable about Mule Variations is Waits' vocals. Still as raspy as ever, his method of recording on this album is astounding, I'm not sure as to how it did it but he sounds as though he is singing with his head in a plastic bucket, and it adds to the overall feel of the album.

    Mule Variations is like a crop maze, in that every time you enter, no matter what route you take you end up in a different place each time, no matter if you take the same route over, and over. This is a refreshing album even a near ten years after it's original release in 1999. Which by the way, Mule Variations easily has my vote for the best album of the 1990's....more info
  • Everybody falls
    Just skip it. Assume he's never done it. Everything else is still so very good. And he remedied himself in Blood Money anyway....more info
  • GODs BLESSeseses TOM WAITS<,,:)
    TOm waits,,,is the Absolute jesus of jesuses. I have nothing but respect for this man and album:) He can't be described in human words really. We don't deserve the pleasure this man provides....more info
  • still trying to pull my jaw off the floor
    i was first introduced to tom waits through the 12 monkeys soundtrack: i heard "earth died screaming" and was like "what the [heck]?!?" but then a friend of mine lent this album to me, and i'm addicted. more aggressive, raunchier tracks like "big in japan" and "filipino box spring hog" make you get up and dance, "chocolate jesus" is _still_ funny after hearing it probably 150 times, and ballads like "hold on" and "house where nobody lives" are as good as ballads get. it might not be his best album, but it's still shockingly good. get this one, "small change", or "heart of saturday night" (or all three), and then check him out live. his live shows are even better than his studio albums. ... ....more info
  • The Legend Lives On
    Although Tom may not have the nicest voice he has something that many of today's artists don't; that is emotion and soul. This album is not very humourus so don't expect it to be, but the lyrics are orgasmic and Primus even makes a gurest appearance on Big In Japan. If you like old-fashioned blues you should love this album. Or if you like great song writting Tom waits is the way to go, [....] Highly reccomended....more info
  • Still listening after 2+ years
    I bought this album the day it came out, and it is still something I listen to all the time.

    Some people have said that it is too derivative of his older work. Well, even if that is true in some respects, I would say that doesn't make it bad. Just because it isn't different in style from something he has done before doesn't mean that it isn't just as wonderful, or better, than the first time around.

    That being said, I don't really think it's all that derivative of his earlier work, personally.

    It doesn't matter what you call it - or what you think it derives from - what matters is that the songs themselves are amazing, the album is an incredible and cohesive whole, and you just can't beat it... thinking about it now, it may actually be my favorite CD that I have ever heard. Certainly in the top 3, and the other 2 are probably Tom Waits, too....more info

  • Only 3 Stars For Waits
    I've been listening to Tom Waits for over 20 years and he is one of my favorite artists, through all his reincarnations. While there are some really fun songs on this album (Big In Japan, Chocolate Jesus), on the whole the "shtick" is just too transparent here. Waits has always played "characters"; but usually the songs are so strong that he pulls them off beautifully. Here they aren't. They're OK, but not as good as his past (or future - Alice, Blood Money) efforts. Might be better than 3 stars for most, but not for Waits....more info
  • Tom Waits - Mule Varations
    This disturbing and sensational album from artist Tom Waits is pure spellbinding fun! The lyrics are something else and so is the otherworldy music. Something about Tom Waits has me always listening to the entire disc without stopping. He has a refreshing and original taste in design and style. My family always gets a hoot listening to Waits go through different mood swings on his album. The way he depicts sorrow and being alone is so eerie and true to life. Beautiful listening....more info
  • An Album That Requires An Investment...
    This is not an album that lets you in the first time you listen to it, or even the second, or the third. This isn't pop music. If you listen closely, though, you can hear just about every face that Tom Waits has ever showed the world, which is appropriate considering that this was his swan song (say it ain't so!). There are some songs that would be right at home on Closing Time; others seem to be tracks that were left off of Bone Machine.

    If you keep at it, one day it'll go 'pop'. Suddenly you'll hear the subtle and not-so-subtle twists and turns and variations in the music and the words. You'll find the improbable links between the likes of What's He Building and Hold On. You'll wander through a maze of carnival characters and whimsical malcontents, not to mention the occassional wack-o.

    Waits manages to give his characters depth and nuance; he makes them empathetic and sometimes outright pathetic, all in the space of five or six minutes. Each one takes the stage, does a dance, and then retires back into the smokey backlight to make room for the next.

    To be sure, your ear will take some time adjusting to the likes of Big in Japan or Cold Water. Believe it or not, though, one day you'll find yourself humming the improbable opening to the album and getting puzzled looks from passers-by.

    I can only suggest that you buy this album, and if it doesn't grab you right away give it some time - I was turned off the first time I bought it and actually returned it. That was three years ago, and I regret the time not spent getting acquainted with some of Waits' finest!...more info