Rain Dogs – Tom Waits


1985 – Island

Experimental/ Rock/ Jazz/ Blues

Tom Waits’ ninth studio album Rain Dogs is a wonderfully energetic and experimental wandering through the weird brain of this giant of the music industry. In keeping with the stylistic upheaval heard on Swordfishtrombones this album is markedly different from the sleazy jazz tunes of the Asylum years, and really this is a welcome change as that music, while good, was starting to get a little tired.

We start off with Singapore which is a delightfully crazed sea shanty and then we move into the slowly creeping quasi-folk tune of Clap Hands which is just so undeniably creepy and well executed that it is hard not to love. The music here is minimalist using mainly percussive instruments with occasional chirpings from Waits’ distinctive guitar, and while melody and rhythm remain rather constant, it never really gets boring.

Next up is the charmingly morbid Cemetery Polka which is wonderfully disconcerting in its jumping beat and hoarse vocals and Jockey Full Of Bourbon which is magnificently composed and has one of the greatest guitar lines of any song ever. Really the sheer scope of difference in musical styles that are heard on this record and the precision with which they are executed is what makes it so great. There is everything here from polkas and funeral blues through to country ballads and even an odd little gospel tune.

There is also a lovely sense of weirdness that pervades this album with Waits’ eerie street poetry melding perfectly with his gravelled vocals and his unconventional compositions and fondness for obscure styles of music. This strangeness doesn’t make the music in any way inaccessible, however, and you might even find yourself up on your feet and dancing to some numbers like Tango Till They’re Sore and Big Black Mariah or singing along to others like Downtown Train and Hang Down Your Head. Really I am just a huge fan of musicians who push the boundaries of what should be in a pop-album, but there is always a chance that those musicians will just end up making a whole record full of unlistenable noise , and I think that with Rain Dogs Tom Waits as walked that line very carefully and succeeded very well.

Apart from the great experimental side of this record one can also really enjoy the finely crafted ballads that are here. Tracks like Time, Hang Down Your Head, and Blind Love are just sublime in their ability to wrangle Waits’ weathered voice into something really quite lovely and heartfelt. Personally I think that the ballads and romance songs on Rain Dogs actually surpass the tenderness that was heard on Waits’ earlier works. I just think that these tracks come across as slightly more sincere and a tad less predictable than the crooning and strings of something like Blue Valentines.

Really I would say that Rain Dogs is just a brilliant album. It has a wonderful mixture of accessible blues, experimental composition, heartfelt ballads, menacing rants, and all manner of other little eccentricities which make it a real treat to listen to. The whole just flows so perfectly from track to track too, moving seamlessly from style to style and energy level to energy level in order to construct a dreamscape world of the working poor as seen from the movement of a midnight train. Really it’s just pure magic.

If you only buy one Tom Waits’ album (and I would suggest that you should buy many more than that) then Rain Dogs would certainly be near to the top of my list of recommendations. Is it hands down the best Tom Waits record? I guess I’d have to say that it depends on my mood, but I would say that it is a brilliant record and that no matter what my mood I am always more than willing to throw it on and listen to it start to finish.

RATING: *****/5

From the album ‘Rain Dogs’ as it appeared in the Jim Jarmusch film ‘Down By Law’.

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3 thoughts on “Rain Dogs – Tom Waits

  1. Pingback: Small Change – Tom Waits | Lachlan J. Faces The Music

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