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Tom Waits

Tom Waits Rain Dogs

Tom Waits Album Reviews

In New Zealand we have a sporting cliche, “a game of two halves”. This certainly applies to Tom Waits’ musical career too. For the first ten years of his recording career, he was a singer songwriter, often on the piano, but with influences of jazz and blues. Waits often wrote about life as a barfly and as the 1970s went on his lyrics and his voice became more soaked in alcohol and cigarettes. His voice became a lugubrious growl, not unlike Louis Armstrong’s.

By 1980, Waits’ career had plateaued, as artistically he hadn’t topped early albums like Closing Time and Small Change. But in 1980 he married Kathleen Brennan, who served as a collaborator and who introduced Waits to outsider music like Captain Beefheart. Waits released Swordfishtrombones in 1983, which employed unusual instruments like marimbas, accordions,and junkyard percussion. This approach ushered in Waits’ most artistically satisfying era and has formed the template for Waits’ subsequent work.

Waits has enjoyed a long and storied career, but his career highlights are generally held to include 1983’s Swordfishtrombones and 1985’s Rain Dogs, and his subsequent albums from the 1980s and 1990s are also excellent. I’ve found Waits’ output since 2000 less engrossing, and he’s released little since 2006’s excellent Orphans set, but he’s built up such an amount of critical kudos that each new release receives rapturous attention.

Waits has also dabbled in acting, and in song it often feels like he’s also projecting a persona. Even though his growled vocals can be affecting, it often feels like a shtick rather than a heartfelt display of emotion. his shtick also covers up what a capable musician he is – while his growling voice and clanging give him a unique angle, he’s also an astute musician. Tom Waits has remained a vibrant creative force longer than most pop musicians, and his lengthy catalogue has plenty of gems.

Ten Favourite Tom Waits’ Songs

I Hope I Don’t Fall In Love With You
Whistle Down The Wind
Tom Traubert’s Blues
Johnsburg, Illinois
Come On Up To The House
Goin’ Out West
Rain Dogs
Never Let Go

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Tom Waits Closing Time

Closing Time – Tom Waits

Closing Time (1973), 8.5/10 One of rock music’s greatest iconoclasts, Tom Waits’ career begins with what’s arguably the most straightforward … Continue Reading Closing Time – Tom Waits

Tom Waits Heart of Saturday Night

The Heart of Saturday Night – Tom Waits

The Heart of Saturday Night (1974), 7.5/10 Closing Time was a very accomplished debut from Waits, and The Heart of … Continue Reading The Heart of Saturday Night – Tom Waits

Tom Waits Nighthawks at the Diner

Nighthawks at the Diner – Tom Waits

Nighthawks at the Diner (1975), 7/10 Nighthawks at the Diner is a live album of previously unreleased songs. Because the … Continue Reading Nighthawks at the Diner – Tom Waits

Tom Waits Small Change

Small Change – Tom Waits

Small Change (1976), 8/10 While Waits is still nominally a piano balladeer on Small Change, but with each album his … Continue Reading Small Change – Tom Waits

Foreign Affairs Tom Waits

Foreign Affairs – Tom Waits

1977, 5.5/10. Tom Waits went through a shaky phase in the late 1970s , and Foreign Affairs is a scattershot album.

Blue Valentine – Tom Waits

1978, 7.5/10. Blue Valentine is Waits’ story-telling album, with tales like ‘Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis’.

Tom Waits Heartattack and Vine

Heartattack and Vine – Tom Waits

1980, 6/10. Tom Waits’ final album with Asylum features boring blues songs and beautiful ballads.

Tom Waits Swordfishtrombones

Swordfishtrombones – Tom Waits

1983, 9.5/10. Waits’ new wife introduced him to outsider music, and Swordfishtrombones embraces junkyard textures to wonderful effect.

Tom Waits Rain Dogs

Rain Dogs – Tom Waits

1985, 10/10. Swordfishtrombones was a terrific album, but Waits topped it, seemingly effortlessly, with Rain Dogs.

Tom Waits Franks Wild Years

Frank’s Wild Years – Tom Waits

1987, 8/10. A soundtrack for a play, with a more subdued take on the approach of Swordfishtrombones and Rain Dogs.

Tom Waits Bone Machine

Bone Machine – Tom Waits

1992, 8.5/10. The arrangements are very simple; most of these songs only have two or three instrumental tracks on them

Tom Waits Mule Variations

Mule Variations – Tom Waits

Mule Variations (1999), 9/10 While Tom Waits had a great run of albums from Swordfishtrombones until the end of the … Continue Reading Mule Variations – Tom Waits

Alice – Tom Waits

Alice (2002), 7/10 Tom Waits released two albums on the same day in 2002, both soundtracks for plays. Alice was … Continue Reading Alice – Tom Waits

Blood Money – Tom Waits

Blood Money 2002, 7/10 Released on the same day as Alice, Blood Money is also a soundtrack. It was written … Continue Reading Blood Money – Tom Waits

Real Gone – Tom Waits

Real Gone (2005), 6.5/10 Real Gone is another Tom Waits’ album from the 2000s that I’m not very excited about … Continue Reading Real Gone – Tom Waits

Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards – Tom Waits

Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards (2006), 8/10 I’ve often felt nonplussed by Tom Waits’ output in the 21st century. While … Continue Reading Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards – Tom Waits

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