Picks and Pans Review: Rain Dogs
Waits, 34, is that rare exception among singers: He really deserves the title "recording artist." His Anthology (Elektra/ Asylum) is an excellent retrospective of his earlier work. It shows that Waits is most remarkable when, like a skid-row Rimbaud, he descends into an underworld of greasy spoons, pool halls and single-occupancy rooms populated by derelicts, strippers, carnies and other inhabitants of society's fringes. That seamier side is represented by such Waits songs as Burma Shave and Tom Traubert's Blues, vivid musical mood poems of loneliness and desperation. But Waits can also be a lustrous songwriter in a traditional pop vein, as in Ol' 55 and Martha. Listening to his songs chronologically shows how his chain-smoker's voice has grown more raspy and pained. But it also shows how Waits has continued to grow and develop. For those who didn't hear his 1983 LP Swordfishtrombones, his newest, Rain Dogs (Island) may come as a surprise. While Waits hasn't lost his way with words, his music has become more ambitious and varied. Jockey Full of Bourbon is a whispered mambo; Cemetery Polka is warped oompah, in which Kurt Weill meets Captain Beefheart. There are also a pair of gutbucket blues numbers (Union Square and Big Black Mariah) with Keith Richards on guitar. Rain Dogs contains 19 songs, and each of them is impressive.