Record of the day: Tom Waits, "Rain Dogs"

Record of the day: Tom Waits, “Rain Dogs”

Tom Waits
Rain Dogs (Cd Island CID 131 90200-2)

Few artists have made a transformation of their style as radical and absolute as Tom Waits. His records from the 70s were undoubtedly very beautiful, albums like “Heartattack and Vine” and “Blue Valentine” are a must-have in your collection, however in those records the atmosphere was stylistically very defined; songs with a high alcohol content, based on piano and string arrangements, smoky atmospheres of jazz clubs that framed stories of derelicts and misfits who lived on the margins of society.

With the album “Swordfishtrombones”, from 1983, Waits suddenly made a complete transformation of his musical personality in a way that shocked those who had followed him until then. Here we are faced with short compositions with a strongly experimental character, influenced both by the expressionist cabaret of Kurt Weill and by the
beat poets and the blues of Howlin’ Wolf, full of bizarre sounds, exotic and metallic percussion, distorted guitars, accordion accordions, brass groups that recall ancient country bands and provide the ideal atmosphere for Waits’ voice, increasingly intense and full of smoke, which continues to explore the universe of those who live in desperation by adding visionary and distorted images full of symbols.

The album raised an uproar of controversy, dividing listeners between detractors and enthusiasts, but Waits was determined to continue in this style; this next “Rain Dogs” is even better, if you have the budget to buy just one album by the great Pomona artist this is definitely the album to take home.

Compared to the previous one, Waits’s more tender, melancholic and poetic side appears more frequently, and moving ballads like “Time” and “Anywhere I Lay My Head” are splendid demonstrations of this. The lyrics often speak of exotic and distant places, moving between Singapore and South America to return to the sad commuter girls of “Downtown Train”, to the theme songs of 50s TV series (the instrumental “Midtown”) and to the New York landscape of “Union Square” and “Walking Spanish”.

Just like Fassbinder or Bukowski, Waits finds beauty in what appears deformed and uncomfortable, regardless of the
commercial pressures of the market and following one’s own inspiration as a soul dowser.

Carlo Boccadoro, composer and conductor, was born in Macerata in 1963. He lives and works in Milan. He collaborates with soloists and orchestras in different parts of the world. He is the author of numerous books on musical subjects.

This text is taken from “Lunario della musica: A record for every day of the year” published by Einaudi, courtesy of the author and the publisher.