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Rain Dogs

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iTunes Review

The shift in approach begun with 1983’s Swordfishtrombones is in full effect for the follow-up, 1985’s Rain Dogs, a 19-track tour de force. Staffed with a stellar line-up of backing musicians (Marc Ribot, Chris Spedding, Keith Richards, John Lurie, Robert Quine, G.E. Smith), Waits continued his aggressive percussive attack, barking loudly in the blues field holler tradition for the rave-ups (“Big Black Mariah,” “Union Square”) and choking back in agony for the ballads (“Time,” “Downtown Train”) until the traditional musical and lyrical worlds we’re familiar with have drifted off to sea. Marimbas, odd percussive devices and an emphasis on unusual horn figures, courtesy of Ralph Carney, make for a creaky walk through an old house with no level floor. Waits’ beatnik poetry has twisted into a singular vision of the world that escapes the bonds of time and geography. It’s a surrealist’s view jammed with lyrical madness (“Singapore,” “Clap Hands,” “9th and Hennepin”). Yet, despite these moments of skewered logic and rhythm, there are satisfying, straight-forward rockers (“Blind Love,” “Hang Down Your Head”) that suddenly jolt things into focus.

Customer Reviews

Like A Movie In Your Mind

Tom Waits has a voice like no other you've heard: impossibly deep, cigarette raspy, downright scary. Combine that with his visual, poetic lyrics and eccentric music, and the combination can be startling. It all comes together on "Rain Dogs" where you'll feel like you've been transpored to a dirty, rundown seaside town filled with drunks, hookers and never do'wells. The imagery is so powerful on this album - a perfect combination of Waits' poetic lyrics as well as his wide-ranging instrumentation - that it plays out like a movie in your mind. If you're brave enough to venture off the beaten rock/pop track, or you're new to Tom Waits, this is a great album to start with.

Best record, second half

You can divide Tom Waits' career into two periods, the first record of the second period being "Swordfishtrombones," which came out just before "Rain Dogs." I have to admit that the earlier stuff, which relied more on traditional instrumentation, vocalization and melody, is what comes off my shelves more often than the later stuff. But for the later period, this is by far the best record. Like the best Waits music, it ranges from utterly twisted and bizarre ("Singapore") to simple and touching ("Blind Love"). If you have an adventurous spirit and a soft heart, you can't go wrong with "Rain Dogs."

A Masterpiece

In my view, this ranks with the best rock and roll records ever made, and certainly stands as Waits' best. Everything works here - on every level, and it really has to be heard to be's that good. This record's influence is wide, but don't take my word for it -- a number of its songs have been covered by a variety of artists. For fun, check out T-Bone Burnett's cover of "Time", Los Lobos' take on "Jockey Full of Bourbon", and Tom Russell's version of "Downtown Train", available on iTunes. One listen to Waits' own version of "Downtown Train" should forever cure you of any desire to hear Rod Stewart's lifeless remake!


Born: December 7, 1949 in Pomona, CA

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

In the 1970s, Tom Waits combined a lyrical focus on desperate, low-life characters with a persona that seemed to embody the same lifestyle, which he sang about in a raspy, gravelly voice. From the '80s on, his work became increasingly theatrical as he moved into acting and composing. Growing up in Southern California, Waits attracted the attention of manager Herb Cohen, who also handled Frank Zappa, and was signed by him at the beginning of the 1970s, resulting in the material later released as The...
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