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Pop - Released January 1, 1985 | Island Records (The Island Def Jam Music Group / Universal Music)

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
With its jarring rhythms and unusual instrumentation -- marimba, accordion, various percussion -- as well as its frequently surreal lyrics, Rain Dogs is very much a follow-up to Swordfishtrombones, which is to say that it sounds for the most part like The Threepenny Opera being sung by Howlin' Wolf. The chief musical difference is the introduction of guitarist Marc Ribot, who adds his noisy leads to the general cacophony. But Rain Dogs is sprawling where its predecessor had been focused: Tom Waits' lyrics here sometimes are imaginative to the point of obscurity, seemingly chosen to fit the rhythms rather than for sense. In the course of 19 tracks and 54 minutes, Waits sometimes goes back to the more conventional music of his earlier records, which seems like a retreat, though such tracks as the catchy "Hang Down Your Head," "Time," and especially "Downtown Train" (frequently covered and finally turned into a Top Ten hit by Rod Stewart five years later) provide some relief as well as variety. Rain Dogs can't surprise as Swordfishtrombones had, and in his attempt to continue in the direction suggested by that album, Waits occasionally borders on the chaotic (which may only be to say that, like most of his records, this one is uneven). But much of the music matches the earlier album, and there is so much of it that that is enough to qualify Rain Dogs as one of Waits' better albums. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 1987 | Island Records (The Island Def Jam Music Group / Universal Music)

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Tom Waits wrote a song called "Frank's Wild Years" for his 1983 Swordfishtrombones album, then used the title (minus its apostrophe) for a musical play he wrote with his wife, Kathleen Brennan, and toured with in 1986. The Franks Wild Years album, drawn from the show, is subtitled, "un operachi romantico in two acts," though the songs themselves do not carry the plot. Rather, this is just the third installment in Waits' eccentric series of Island Records albums in which he seems most inspired by German art song and carnival music, presenting songs in spare, stripped-down arrangements consisting of instruments like marimba, baritone horn, and pump organ and singing in a strained voice that has been artificially compressed and distorted. The songs themselves often are conventional romantic vignettes, or would be minus the oddities of instrumentation, arrangement, and performance. For example, "Innocent When You Dream," a song of disappointment in love and friendship, has a winning melody, but it is played in a seesaw arrangement of pump organ, bass, violin, and piano, and Waits sings it like an enraged drunk. (He points out the arbitrary nature of the arrangements by repeating "Straight to the Top," done as a demented rhumba in act one, as a Vegas-style Frank Sinatra swing tune in act two.) The result on record may not be theatrical, exactly, but it certainly is affected. It also has the quality of an inside joke that listeners are not being let in on. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 1992 | Island Records (The Island Def Jam Music Group / Universal Music)

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Perhaps Tom Waits' most cohesive album, Bone Machine is a morbid, sinister nightmare, one that applied the quirks of his experimental '80s classics to stunningly evocative -- and often harrowing -- effect. In keeping with the title's grotesque image of the human body, Bone Machine is obsessed with decay and mortality, the ease with which earthly existence can be destroyed. The arrangements are accordingly stripped of all excess flesh; the very few, often non-traditional instruments float in distinct separation over the clanking junkyard percussion that dominates the record. It's a chilling, primal sound made all the more otherworldly (or, perhaps, underworldly) by Waits' raspy falsetto and often-distorted roars and growls. Matching that evocative power is Waits' songwriting, which is arguably the most consistently focused it's ever been. Rich in strange and extraordinarily vivid imagery, many of Waits' tales and musings are spun against an imposing backdrop of apocalyptic natural fury, underlining the insignificance of his subjects and their universally impending doom. Death is seen as freedom for the spirit, an escape from the dread and suffering of life in this world -- which he paints as hellishly bleak, full of murder, suicide, and corruption. The chugging, oddly bouncy beats of the more uptempo numbers make them even more disturbing -- there's a detached nonchalance beneath the horrific visions. Even the narrator of the catchy, playful "I Don't Wanna Grow Up" seems hopeless in this context, but that song paves the way for the closer "That Feel," an ode to the endurance of the human soul (with ultimate survivor Keith Richards on harmony vocals). The more upbeat ending hardly dispels the cloud of doom hanging over the rest of Bone Machine, but it does give the listener a gentler escape from that terrifying sonic world. All of it adds up to Waits' most affecting and powerful recording, even if it isn't his most accessible. © Steve Huey /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 1983 | Island Records (The Island Def Jam Music Group / Universal Music)

Between the release of Heartattack and Vine in 1980 and Swordfishtrombones in 1983, Tom Waits got rid of his manager, his producer, and his record company. And he drastically altered a musical approach that had become as dependable as it was unexciting. Swordfishtrombones has none of the strings and much less of the piano work that Waits' previous albums had employed; instead, the dominant sounds on the record were low-pitched horns, bass instruments, and percussion, set in spare, close-miked arrangements (most of them by Waits) that sometimes were better described as "soundscapes." Lyrically, Waits' tales of the drunken and the lovelorn have been replaced by surreal accounts of people who burned down their homes and of Australian towns bypassed by the railroad -- a world (not just a neighborhood) of misfits now have his attention. The music can be primitive, moving to odd time signatures, while Waits alternately howls and wheezes in his gravelly bass voice. He seems to have moved on from Hoagy Carmichael and Louis Armstrong to Kurt Weill and Howlin' Wolf (as impersonated by Captain Beefheart). Waits seems to have had trouble interesting a record label in the album, which was cut 13 months before it was released, but when it appeared, rock critics predictably raved: after all, it sounded weird and it didn't have a chance of selling. Actually, it did make the bottom of the best-seller charts, like most of Waits' albums, and now that he was with a label based in Europe, even charted there. Artistically, Swordfishtrombones marked an evolution of which Waits had not seemed capable (though there were hints of this sound on his last two Asylum albums), and in career terms it reinvented him. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released March 6, 1973 | Anti - Epitaph

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Alternative & Indie - Released September 5, 1978 | Anti - Epitaph

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Alternative & Indie - Released April 27, 1999 | Anti - Epitaph

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Alternative & Indie - Released October 15, 1974 | Anti - Epitaph

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Rock - Released January 1, 1993 | Island Records (The Island Def Jam Music Group / Universal Music)

Tom Waits collaborated with director Robert Wilson and librettist William Burroughs on the musical stage work The Black Rider in 1990. A variation on the Faust legend, the 19th century German story allowed Waits to indulge his affection for the music of Kurt Weill and address one of his favorite topics of recent years, the devil. Waits had proven an excellent collaborator when he worked with director Francis Ford Coppola on One from the Heart, making that score an integral part of the film. Here, the collaboration and the established story line served to focus Waits' often fragmented attention, lending coherence and consistency. He then had three years to adapt the score into a record album in which he did most of the singing and writing (though Burroughs contributed, singing one song and writing lyrics to three), and he used the time to come up with his best recording in a decade, a varied set of songs that work whether or not you know the show. (Seven of the 20 tracks were instrumentals.) Waits used the word "crude" to describe his working method several times in the liner notes, and a crude performing and recording style continued to appeal to him. But the kind of chaos that can sometimes result from that style was reined in by the bands he assembled in Germany and Los Angeles to record the score, so that the recordings were lively without being off-puttingly primitive. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released September 9, 1980 | Anti - Epitaph

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Alternative & Indie - Released September 21, 1976 | Anti - Epitaph

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Alternative & Indie - Released May 7, 2002 | Anti - Epitaph

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Alternative & Indie - Released October 21, 1975 | Anti - Epitaph

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Alternative & Indie - Released November 21, 2006 | Anti - Epitaph

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Alternative & Indie - Released October 25, 2011 | Anti - Epitaph

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Alternative & Indie - Released October 23, 2001 | Anti - Epitaph

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Alternative & Indie - Released October 5, 2004 | Anti - Epitaph

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Alternative & Indie - Released September 13, 1977 | Anti - Epitaph

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Alternative & Indie - Released May 7, 2002 | Anti - Epitaph

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Alternative & Indie - Released October 7, 1986 | Anti - Epitaph