Get behind the mule: A look at Tom Waits Mule Variations.

Tom Waits is a tough artist to lock down, he changes his style and approach to music so often that he does deserve that cliched moniker of a musical chameleon. I was a bit late to the party with Waits, not really “getting” his music until my college years. Many people find him and his eclectic output inaccessible, With time and patience, this most certainly isn’t the case. The album that really got me with Waits, hook, line and sinker as it were was 1999’s Mule Variations. 
Mule is a collection of songs that vary in style and approach, as is the Waits way, from crooned acoustic numbers like ‘Hold on’ to the avant garde experimentation of tracks like ‘Big in Japan’ & ‘What’s he building in there?’ To almost southern gospel on album closer ‘Come on up to the house’. What’s even harder is trying to convince someone to give Waits a whirl, if I was to though, Mule Variations is definitely the album I would point them in the direction of. Mule Variations is probably in the grand scheme of things one of his most accessible albums, a gateway record if you will. Once you have found a Tom Waits album you dig, it all kind of falls into place, you “get” him, his heart on sleeve yet left field approach to song writing and to paraphrase the man,his desire for “beautiful melodies telling us terrible things”.
This is also an album that sells the idea of the vinyl reissue, a dirty word to some collectors. I would point those people, as I was, in the direction of the 2010 reissue of Mule Variations on 180g vinyl, it is quite frankly breathtaking, a beautiful record rendered even more so. On retrospective lament ‘Take it with me’ i swear you can hear his fingers grazing the keys of his piano, it’s quite astonishing to pick up details you missed from CD or digital releases of the album.
I suppose what I’m getting at is that Mule Variations will basically run you the gamut of Waits, you’ll get a taste of most aspects of his musical approach, opening you up to other great albums of his like ‘Swordfish Trombones’, ‘Rain dogs’ and ‘Blood Money’ to only name a few, you will have listened to an amazing record also.


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