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on 2 January 2016
Grand album, very diverse musical styles in it
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on 9 April 2015
I can see what all the fuss was about!

In my humble opinion it's at least as good as anything he's ever done and probably a lot better than most.

Not a weak track on here. It will bear continued play.
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on 8 November 2014
After a few years of obsession with Tom Waits I've now collected the majority of his back catalogue, but there are still a few that have eluded me! I enjoy all of his work, from the bar-room jazz to the industrial and experimental gravelly-voiced classics of the mid 80s and 90s. I didn't know much about this album, but it's another great one.

At first I liked it but was not truly enamoured, but on repeated listens it shows its class. It consists mostly of ballads and fairly traditional songs, unlike albums like Bone Machine or Real Gone (the two nearest albums that I had chronologically). However, the songs are terrific as usual. 'Come on Up to the House' is surely one of his greatest songs, and I had it firmly lodged in my subconscious for days! A lot of people tout the Beefheart-esque 'Filipino Box Spring Hog', and as a huge fan of the good Cap'n this is another favourite. However, the entire album is captivating and deserving of a place in your Tom Waits collection!
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TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 10 April 2008
35 years at the top of his game.

Between 1973's 'Closing Time' and the triple-whammy of 'Orphans' in 2006
Mr Waits has been resonsible for a whole lot of damned fine music
winging its' way out into this cracked and weary world of ours.

Every Waits fan will have their own favorite album.
Today mine is 'Mule Variations' (this time next year maybe it'll
be 'Small Change' again, or maybe 'Alice', or maybe....).

Released in 1999 on the Anti label this collection of sixteen
pieces seems to me to bring together everything that makes this
great maverick truly unique.
Parched, blistering rock and roll; drunken bar-room blues;
gentle heart-wringing ballads; deeply unsettling monologues.

....and stories! Always with the stories !

Painting small worlds alive with words and music has always
been his greatest gift.
Circus sideshow eccentrics; marginal paranoid loners and drifters and losers and lovers
line up to share their hopes and fears and longings.

....and stomping ! Always with the stomping !

All manner of things get thumped and slapped and crunched
( even drums sometimes ) to create the kind of rhythmic
mayhem and density of raw emotional sound which only this master
could muster. Guitarist Marc Ribot's solo on 'Cold Water' must
have stripped the paint off the ceiling.

....and suddenly it all falls away and there in the corner is
a man with a crooked hat and a broken down piano singing
a bruised and tender love song ( 'Take It With Me' ) of such hushed
intimacy that one can barely breathe until it's over.

This man and his many worlds are indivisible and precious.
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on 4 October 2000
' Mule Variations' is one those very rare, special albums that everybody should own. From the intro to Big in Japan the album takes you through a roller coaster of emotions and music all in unmistakeable, rough , gravelly Tom Waits style . Stand out cuts are difficult to pick as every song is superbly crafted and written 'Hold On' winner of a Grammy for best Rock vocal is a song that Springsteen would have wanted to write and features some of the best lyrics Tom Waits has written 'Chocolate Jesus' ' Take It With Me ' etc etc . Each song is a classic . The album isn't always immediate and every time it is played you always hear something different ....
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 10 September 2012
Tom Waits...hectoring circus ringmaster winking at the bearded lady; raucous denizen of sleazy hotel rooms; barfly with no flies on him; sloppy romantic bent on one scuffed knee before a lady in lurid scarlet and old furs; scrap metal dealer; owner of a drunken piano; jazz hound; torch-carrier for a vocal style hauled through hot coals and handed down by Howlin` Wolf & Cap`n Beefheart; slouchy grouchy wit & doctor of drollery; timber-shiverer, rain dog, whiphand; bad boy made good; family man - but then so was Gomez Addams...
He has the best-packaged CDs of anybody. This one, like all his recent releases, is housed in a digipak, with a booklet that has printed lyrics - worth reading alone -and b&w photos of our man as a legless scarecrow (no research needed) a doubled-over besuited & behatted leaf botherer, as well as, on the back cover, a man in a long black coat, goatee to the wind, fancy umbrella up, and on the front cover a sepia Tom in a barren field, hat lowered & looking at us as if to say "Come on in, if you got the nerve."
The music? It`s just great.
Swordfishtrombones, Rain Dogs, Frank`s Wild Years and Bone Machine had served notice that we weren`t likely to get any more nice conventional songs from this particular man no mo`. Big In Japan, the opener of this magnificent 70-minute diversion, is clattering proof of that. There`s a lot of very varied music to be had on this album, including a glorious ballad - old Tom always gave good ballad - called Picture In A Frame, and two tremendous songs to finish, the indulgently mournful Take It With Me and the gruffly hortatory Come On Up To The House. Don`t mind if I do, Tom.
On the way we hear the lovely Hold On, the bittersweet Black Market Baby, Georgia Lee - a complaint to an absent God - and the desperate House Where Nobody Lives.
Then there`s the spoken What`s He Building? which is like a short story by Ray Bradbury as narrated by Poe.
Mule Variations is one of Tom`s most satisfying albums. No wonder some call it his best.
These days I`d rather listen to Waits than almost anyone else. He`s still one of the most original songwriters around, with a musical sensibility that keeps fresh over album after album (his latest, Bad As Me, is superb).
What`s he building in there?
More weirdly wonderful songs, I expect.
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on 26 December 2003
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.
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on 15 December 1999
Critics of the U.S.A. overlook one significant fact about the place, viz., no other country in the world could have given us Tom Waits, which is sufficient reason to forgive a mountain of sins in my book! If Waits was ever going to make a bad record, he would surely have done so by now! This is business as usual in terms of the range of material (from sentimental ballads such as "Picture in a Frame" to stuff that makes your ears bleed like "Filipino Box Spring Hog") but he has never done it better, and it is decidedly more focused than his last three albums. As usual, his fondness for odd instrumentation is strongly evident, the home made, Harry Partch style percussion enhanced this time by computer programing and even a DJ(!). Marc Ribot's guitar playing would be sufficient reason in itself for buying this record, and Charlie Musselwhite's harmonica work is also notable. Waits also stretches his voice even further than usual on some tracks, particularly on the percussion driven "Eyeball Kid", where he is occasionally reminiscent of Pere Ubu's David Thomas. Again, there is a song that Bruce Springsteen would have liked to have written ("Hold On"), and plenty of dark humour, especially the spoken track "What's he Building?". Waits just goes from strength to strength. If the Americans really new what they were about, this man would be the front runner candidate for the upcoming presidentual elections!
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on 14 March 2006
Mule Variations 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.
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on 14 November 1999
I've got most of Tom Waits' albums from Closing Time to Mule Variations and I have to say this is probably his best yet. Every one of his albums has its classics but MV outdoes itself. Its worth the price just for 'Picture in a Frame' which is one the simplest and most impressive songs he's done. MV is also an incredibly varied album and shows off how well Tom can switch between radically different styles and make them all fit together. If you're new to Tom Waits, this is definitely the place to start.
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