Tom Waits – Rain Dogs (1985): Review

rain dogs

Produced by Tom Waits
Label – Island

For fans of the beatnik inspired, bar room piano balladry of previous works, the clunk and clang of the predecessor to this, “Swordfishtrombones”, must have come as bewildering rag tag assortment of musical oddities. Fortunately for Waits, almost all of the faithful immediately understood the mad concept and lauded it as the best recording of his career. “Rain Dogs” isn’t as creatively left field, but certainly carries many of the hallmarks, particularly the instrumental accompaniment. Grizzled ballads, warped sea shanties, and sparse show tunes house the singer’s vocal grunts and gasps. The lovable drunk illusionist characterises his songs with references to oriental barflies, one armed dwarves, legless mistresses and other hobo’s and boho’s that fill his fertile imagination. He sings and slurs like he just fell out of bed after an epic night of alcoholic excess; a marked difference to the artist who could deliver a relatively tuneful croon a decade earlier on “Closing Time”. But the deliberate deterioration of his vocal chords are accurately honed to represent the artist on the fringes of society, painting a dark world that his voyeuristic fans can dip into without risk of personal experience.


The quality of the material is mixed, often borrowed, and on the instrumentals there’s an almost laughably abecedarian approach. Percussion that includes banging on pipes, walls, doors and garbage cans are held by many to be inspirational additions, but there are a small minority who just hear that annoying amateur DIY enthusiast next door putting up shelves and fixing the hot water pipes. The irony is that amongst the shambolic clatter there a few fine songs including the almost delicate tranquillity of “Time”. On “Blind Love” Waits pulls off a convincing country performance, and “Downtown Train” (covered with great success by Rod Stewart) is one of his best compositions. The eerie backdrop to the spoken word “9th & Hennepin” conjures up images of murky alleys, run down bars, and rain soaked sidewalks. Lyrically, Waits’ scattergun approach sometimes hits home, and at other times fails to have any true context. “Clap Hands” lazily rewrites Lincoln Chase’s original, replacing it with nonsense lines like “Sane, sane, they’re all insane, fireman’s blind the conductor’s lame. A Cincinnati jacket and a sad-luck dame, hang out the window with a bottle full of rain”. The perplexing “Big Black Mariah” sees Tom grunting “Sent to the skies on a Benny Jag Blue, off to bed without his supper like the Linda brides do”. The prevalent question is; what is the Benny Jag Blue or indeed the Linda brides? Fortunately for Waits his fans fully understand, and so too the well educated rock hacks who have never once bestowed a bad review on their idol.

And so it came to pass that the aberrant, grouchy maestro donned his pork pie hat yet again. Gathering a band of devoted musical dabblers he hired a drinks cabinet and a recording studio, and went to work. The results are a sobering confirmation that Waits really is a performer crippled by his own sense of artistic worth, and there’s literally no one out there to tell him otherwise.


Track Listing
1. “Singapore” 2:46
2. “Clap Hands” 3:47
3. “Cemetery Polka” 1:51
4. “Jockey Full of Bourbon” 2:45
5. “Tango Till They’re Sore” 2:49
6. “Big Black Mariah” 2:44
7. “Diamonds & Gold” 2:31
8. “Hang Down Your Head” 2:32
9. “Time” 3:55
10. “Rain Dogs” 2:56
11. “Midtown” (instrumental) 1:00
12. “9th & Hennepin” 1:58
13. “Gun Street Girl” 4:37
14. “Union Square” 2:24
15. “Blind Love” 4:18
16. “Walking Spanish” 3:05
17. “Downtown Train” 3:53
18. “Bride of Rain Dog” (instrumental) 1:07
19. “Anywhere I Lay My Head” 2:48

Downtown Train

Jockey Full Of Bourbon

Clap Hands

2 responses to “Tom Waits – Rain Dogs (1985): Review

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