http://assets-s3.rollingstone.com/assets/images/album_review/6c00e1c75e3ce9e446411a1a24c38b998a488f5a.jpg Rain Dogs

Tom Waits

Rain Dogs

Universal Distribution
Rolling Stone: star rating
Community: star rating
5 0 0
November 21, 1985

Tom Waits' biggest problem has always been a tendency to romanticize the abyss. His claustrophobic night world — peopled with crusty old salts, whores with hearts of gold and three-time losers — is all margins and no center, a sentimental never land where grotesqueness isn't merely accepted — it's a badge of authenticity and hipness.

Predictably, Rain Dogs, Waits' first LP since 1983's Swordfish trombones, indulges these flaws too generously. Dramatic bohemian rhapsodies on insanity, deformity, night, rain and irretrievable loss crop up here frequently enough to satisfy even the most demanding middle-class seeker of the edge.

A handful of tracks emerge, however, from this nineteen-song, fifty-minute-plus mélange (sprawl being one of the perils of self-production) to take a place among the best work Waits has done. Prominent among these are the plaintive, accordion-tinged ballad "Time"; the nursery-rhyme-like Dr. John homage "Clap Hands"; "Downtown Train," featuring G.E. Smith's lovely, lyrical guitar; "Union Square," where Keith Richards' energetic rocking rescues Waits' bluesy affectations; and the countryish "Blind Love," which teams Keef (who also contributes some wailing background vocals straight out of the Appalachians) on guitar with Robert Quine.

When you add to these the touching "Hang Down Your Head" (cowritten by Waits' Jersey-girl wife, Kathleen Brennan) and the straight, spare blues of "Gun Street Girl," you have the core of what could have been the most consistent and wide-ranging record Waits ever made. But Rain Dogs insists on nosing its way around the barrooms and back alleys Waits has so often visited before. Until Waits can leash that impulse more successfully, he'll have to be content to remain on the margins with his subjects.

Album Review Main Next


Community Guidelines »
loading comments

loading comments...


Sort by:
    Read More
    Around the Web
    Powered By ZergNet
    Daily Newsletter

    Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

    Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
    marketing partners.


    We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

    Song Stories

    “Try a Little Tenderness”

    Otis Redding | 1966

    This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

    More Song Stories entries »