Thursday, March 6, 2008
No. 397: Rain Dogs
Band: Tom Waits
Album: Rain Dogs
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Thankfully, the strange music contingent has a place on the RS list, as evidenced by "Trout Mask Replica," Zappa's records on the list and, of course, this one. From the word go, "Rain Dogs" is qurirky and hypnotic.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: It's not an easy album to, say, hum along to.
Best song: "Gun Street Girl" has the feel of an old blues song while "9th & Hennepin" is the type of thing the Velvets might (might) have recorded.
Worst song: "Union Square" is too much.
Is it awesome?: Yes.
Tom Waits, uh, is strange.
"Diamonds & Gold" has the familiar tubular drum percussive sounds. The album's title track starts with what appears to be an organ solo. The short instrumental "Midtown" has a screaming trumpet. Waits himself produced the album with the notion that all the music would be organic, as the '80s had robbed popular music of organic drums. Because of this, there are a lot of folk-sounding instruments -- picked steel-sounding guitars, clanking drums, etc. -- and the record sounds incredibly natural. Waits fancies himself a blues/folk singer and, on "Rain Dogs," he was. He surrounds himself with the tools of the trade and, musically, it comes through.
And then, his voice. Waits' voice could be best described as "gravelly," though you'd have to imagine the gravel is jagged and dangerous. "Big Black Mariah" has Waits, essentially, screaming, while "Downtown Train" has Waits crooning as though he's Rod Stewart (who would later make the song a hit). Waits speaks the lyrics of "9th & Hennepin" as he describes the dangerous neighborhood and a prostitute within.
There's a niche for Tom Waits, certainly. Like a lot of quirky music, it has its place, though I'd suggest he's not on the same plane as Beefheart or Zappa. Still, "Rain Dogs" is a classic.