Retro Review: Tom Waits ‘Rain Dogs’

Let’s journey back to 1985, shall we? Reagen kicked off the year by being sworn in for his second term. We Are The World is recorded. The first Wrestlemania kicks off at Madison Square Garden. Back To The Future becomes the highest grossing film of the year. Tetris is released. And as for classic horror films? How about 1985 seeing these films come out: Re-Animator. Nightmare On Elm St. 2. Return Of The Living Dead. Fright Night. Day Of The Dead. Friday The 13th Part V. Vampire Hunter D (a personal favorite). Overall, I’d say a pretty awesome year!
1985 also saw the release of Tom Waits‘ ninth studio album Rain Dogs. The second in a trilogy (surrounded by Swordfishtrombones and Franks Wild Years), Rain Dogs is a loose concept album about the life of the “less-fortunate” of New York City. Musically resembling something out of a 30′s carnival, this is an album that garnered much acclaim over the years. However, does it still hold up? Check after the jump.
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Opening up with Singapore, the album already let’s you know that you’re in for a ride. Instruments that sound out of tune and Waits’ raspy voice grating over everything makes the song sound like it belongs in an insane asylum. However, it’s only the beginning of a wild, old school blues, noir-jazz ride that contains what might be some of the most poignant lyrics put to music. A personal favorite line is in the lullaby-esque track Time, where Waits croons, “And when she’s on a roll/she pulls a razor from her boot/and a thousand pigeons fall around her feet.” Breathtaking. 
Production wise, this album does show it’s age. However, that age only adds to the magic of the music, much like a fine wine. It is very similar to the effect of hearing scratches or dust on vinyl; technically a flaw, yes, but a flaw that can be very pleasant on the ears and evoke certain powerful emotions. 
Some of my personal favorites on this album are the aforementioned Time, Clap Hands, and Tango Till They’re Sore. These tracks, for me, are the highlights and I can listen to them anytime, any day. 
The Final Word: Definitely not an album for everyone and one that requires a very specific mood to enjoy, Rain Dogs is a tough sell for many people. However, if you can accept it’s quirkiness and vintage sound, a beautiful album with poetry for lyrics lays underneath. This truly is a Tom Waits classic.
  • PatrickxJonathan

    I was going to discuss What’s He Building In There and how much that song still gives me the creeps, and then I realized it’s off of Mule Variations, not Rain Dogs…