In the middle of the 80’s jazz crooner Tom Waits reinvents himself and explores the darker side of things and, musically, creates music that is completely different from anything nobody ever heard before. The delirium started with “Swordfishtrombones” in 1983, and continued on with “Rain Dogs” two years later.

The angry drunk pianist persona is still very present on beautiful but dark songs like Tango Til They’re Soar. But the main difference is that Waits plays (and composes?) on the guitar, an instrument he barely used on previous albums. We can hear the steal strings on Claphands and the electric bluesy groove on Big Black Mariah. This changes completely the music of the 36 year-old musician from Pomona, California which gives him a unique place in the music universe. Nobody does strange and dark circus music, minimalist way ahead of its time, like Singapour and Diamonds and Gold.


Of course, the voice. What a voice. The incredible storyteller Waits is cuts two-thirds of his lengthy songs to focus on shorter punchier songs, compared to his earlier piano-bar material. Accordion, xylophones and circus instruments are often used on this rich album. The title-song is a great example of how to create powerful rock song without powerful amps. 30 years later, it will be “normal” to hear those types of arrangements: Patrick Watson or Moriarty use them all the time. But in 1985, when Duran Duran and Madonna reigned, there wasn’t such music as Tom Waits’. A true pioneer.


In studio, guitarist Marc Ribot remembers Waits getting sounds by hitting objects, like a chest of drawers with a two-by-four. Keith Richards was also invited to play on a couple of songs: the two musicians got along as they let them be guided by their animal instinct, rather than notes on a sheet of paper.

On “Rain Dogs”, there aren’t any weak songs. If it’s not the music, or the uniqueness, it’s the beautiful melodies. One of his most inspired songs, Time, is featured halfway through this 19-song opus. “Rain Dogs” is 54 minutes long, which is way more than the average 80s album.

Rain Dogs
(Island Records, 1985)

-Genre: underground blues
-Sounds like… nobody else!

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About The Author

Mélomane invétéré plongeant dans tous les genres et époques, Nicolas Pelletier a publié 6 000 critiques de disques et concerts depuis 1991, dont 1100 chez emoragei magazine et 600 sur, dont il a également été le rédacteur en chef de 2009 à 2014. Il publie "Les perles rares et grands crus de la musique" en 2013, lance le site RREVERB en 2014, et devient stratège numérique des radios de Bell Média en 2015, participant au lancement de la marque iHeartRadio au Canada en 2016. Il dirige maintenant la stratégie numérique d'ICI Musique, la radio musicale de Radio-Canada.