Mule Variations

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Mule Variations
Studio album by
ReleasedApril 16, 1999 (1999-04-16)
StudioPrairie Sun Recording Studios, Cotati, California
GenreRock, experimental
ProducerKathleen Brennan, Tom Waits
Tom Waits chronology
The Black Rider
Mule Variations
Blood Money
Singles from Mule Variations
  1. "Hold On"
    Released: March 1999

Mule Variations is the twelfth studio album by American musician Tom Waits, released on April 16, 1999 on the ANTI- label. It was Waits's first studio album since The Black Rider (1993). It won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album and was nominated for Best Male Rock Performance for the track "Hold On". It also sold more than 500,000 copies worldwide.

The album was backed by an extensive tour in Europe and North America during the summer and autumn of 1999, which was Waits' first proper tour since 1987. Other promotional stops included a solo performance on VH1 Storytellers.

In 2012, the album was ranked number 416 on Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.[1]


Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic4/5 stars[2]
Entertainment WeeklyB+[3]
Los Angeles Times4/4 stars[4]
Melody Maker4.5/5 stars[5]
Rolling Stone3/5 stars[8]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide4.5/5 stars[9]
The Village VoiceA−[11]

Upon its release, Mule Variations received positive critical acclaim. AllMusic reviewer Stephen Thomas Erlewine stated that "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" and awarded the album four out of five stars.[2] Former Village Voice editor Robert Christgau gave the album an A– rating and praised Waits and Brennan's songwriting, saying "together they humanize the percussion-battered Bone Machine sound, reconstituting his '80s alienation effects into a Delta harshness with more give to it."[11] David Browne of Entertainment Weekly said that Mule Variations "restores the wizened humanity — and a more traditional sense of songcraft — to [Waits'] music," gave the album a B+ rating and concluded that Waits was "the last of the classic American tunesmiths."[3] Hot Press reviewer Peter Murphy described the album as "an emotionally forthright record" and called it "a record of at least two minds: scuffed rooming-house madrigals [...] contrasted with big, fat, bleeding heart ballads."[12] Zach Hooker of Pitchfork awarded the album a 9.5 out of 10 rating, described it as "a great album" and further described that "sonically, it picks up where Bone Machine left off, but drops some of that album's artifice: the clattering, trebly out-back-of-the-shed sound is still here and the inexplicable presence of Primus persists."[7] Rolling Stone said that the album "contains the most blues of any album [Tom Waits has] made" but added "the problem is that it's more of the same", describing it as "the latest installment of discourse," awarding the album three out of five stars.[8]

Mule Variations was a moderate commercial success. The album charted in 14 countries worldwide upon its release, including debuting at number 30 on the United States Billboard 200[13] and number 1 on Norway's album chart.[14] The album was certified Gold in Canada in July 2001 after selling over 50,000 copies[15] and as of April 2009 had sold more than 500,000 copies worldwide.[16] Mule Variations won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album at the 42nd Grammy Awards[17] and was nominated for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance.[18]

In 2010 it was awarded a platinum certification from the Independent Music Companies Association,[19] which indicated sales of at least 500,000 copies throughout Europe. As of 2006, sales in the United States have exceeded 440,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.[20]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks are written by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan unless otherwise noted.

1."Big in Japan" 4:05
2."Lowside of the Road" 2:59
3."Hold On" 5:33
4."Get Behind the Mule" 6:52
5."House Where Nobody Lives"Waits4:14
6."Cold Water" 5:23
8."What's He Building?"Waits3:20
9."Black Market Baby" 5:02
10."Eyeball Kid" 4:25
11."Picture in a Frame" 3:39
12."Chocolate Jesus" 3:55
13."Georgia Lee" 4:24
14."Filipino Box Spring Hog"Waits3:09
15."Take It with Me" 4:24
16."Come on Up to the House" 4:36
Total length:70:33
Australian, New Zealand and Japanese[21] bonus tracks
17."Buzz Fledderjohn"Waits4:14
18."Big Face Money"Waits, Casey Waits0:38
Total length:75:25


Christopher Marvin, the son of actor Lee Marvin, was featured as a guest drummer as a nod to Waits's membership in The Sons of Lee Marvin, a humorous secret society of Marvin look-alikes.

Charts and certifications[edit]


  1. ^ "500 Greatest Albums of All Time Rolling Stone's definitive list of the 500 greatest albums of all time". Rolling Stone. 2012. Retrieved September 2, 2019.
  2. ^ a b Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Mule Variations – Tom Waits". AllMusic. Retrieved November 24, 2015.
  3. ^ a b Browne, David (April 30, 1999). "Mule Variations". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved June 22, 2012.
  4. ^ Hilburn, Robert (April 25, 1999). "Waits' Adventures Take Bluesy Turn". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 24, 2015.
  5. ^ "Tom Waits: Mule Variations". Melody Maker: 38. May 1, 1999.
  6. ^ Bailie, Stuart (April 20, 1999). "Tom Waits – Mule Variations". NME. Archived from the original on August 17, 2000. Retrieved November 24, 2015.
  7. ^ a b Hooker, Zack (April 27, 1999). "Tom Waits: Mule Variations". Pitchfork. Retrieved June 22, 2012.
  8. ^ a b Ratliff, Ben (May 13, 1999). "Mule Variations". Rolling Stone. Retrieved June 22, 2012.
  9. ^ Coleman, Mark; Scoppa, Bud (2004). "Tom Waits". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon & Schuster. pp. 854–55. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8.
  10. ^ Vowell, Sarah (May 1999). "Tom Waits: Mule Variations". Spin. 15 (5): 147. Retrieved November 24, 2015.
  11. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (May 18, 1999). "Consumer Guide". The Village Voice. Retrieved November 24, 2015.
  12. ^ Murphy, Peter. "Mule Variations". Hot Press. Retrieved June 22, 2012.
  13. ^ a b c "Mule Variations – Tom Waits |". Billboard. Retrieved June 22, 2012.
  14. ^ a b " – Tom Waits – Mule Variations". Hung Medien. Retrieved June 22, 2012.
  15. ^ "Gold and Platinum Search". Music Canada. Archived from the original on January 30, 2013. Retrieved June 22, 2012.
  16. ^ Zupko, Sarah (April 22, 2009). "Tom Waits – "Mule Variations" Video Collection (video) < PopMatters". PopMatters. Retrieved June 22, 2012.
  17. ^ "Past Winners Search |". Grammys. Retrieved June 22, 2012.
  18. ^ "42nd Annual Grammy Awards List of nominations – Page 2 – CNN". CNN. January 4, 2000. Archived from the original on September 23, 2010. Retrieved June 22, 2012.
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^ Mule Variations [Japan Bonus Tracks] – Tom Waits : Release Information, Reviews and Credits at AllMusic. Retrieved June 22, 2012.
  22. ^ " – Tom Waits – Mule Variations". Hung Medien. Retrieved June 22, 2012.
  23. ^ "Tom Waits – Mule Variations –". Hung Medien. Retrieved June 22, 2012.
  24. ^ " – Tom Waits – Mule Variations". Ultratop. Hung Medien. Retrieved June 22, 2012.
  25. ^ " – Tom Waits – Mule Variations". Hung Medien. Retrieved June 22, 2012.
  26. ^ " – Tom Waits – Mule Variations". Hung Medien. Retrieved June 22, 2012.
  27. ^ " – Tom Waits – Mule Variations". Hung Medien. Retrieved June 22, 2012.
  28. ^ "". Media Control Charts. Retrieved June 22, 2012.
  29. ^ " – Tom Waits – Mule Variations". Hung Medien. Retrieved June 22, 2012.
  30. ^ " – Tom Waits – Mule Variations". Hung Medien. Retrieved June 22, 2012.
  31. ^ "Tom Waits – Mule Variations –". Hitparade. Hung Medien. Retrieved June 22, 2012.
  32. ^ "TOM WAITS | Artist | Official Charts". UK Albums Chart. The Official Charts Company. Retrieved June 22, 2012.
  33. ^ "Top 100 Album-Jahrescharts" (in German). GfK Entertainment. Retrieved September 8, 2016.
  34. ^ "Canadian album certifications – Tom Waits – Mule Variations". Music Canada.
  35. ^ "Dutch album certifications – Tom Waits – Mule Variations" (in Dutch). Nederlandse Vereniging van Producenten en Importeurs van beeld- en geluidsdragers. Enter Mule Variations in the "Artiest of titel" box.

External links[edit]