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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Mark's Pick of the Week: Rain Dogs by Tom Waits

          Violently I scrolled through my Ipod trying to figure out something to write about.  The clock on the wall ticking away the time I had left.  Deadlines are sacred here at the blog, but only when you meet them.  If you don’t it’s not a big deal, but if you do then by God you’d better get that piece in on time.   The article should be able to write itself.  I’m translating what I hear into a written medium that you as a “www” can read.  I needed a sound that I could turn into words, and I found it. 
            Rain Dog’s is a recording of emotion.  It’s the middle of a three album series that tells the story of a group of people living in a city with no way out.  The styles of the songs themselves vary to the point that that last sentence is all I could say to adequately describe it.  Some songs are angry, some are sad, some scared, desperate, tired, or a combination of all of these.  They are all brought together by their suffering, and compiled onto this record.

            For an album as real, and organic as this to come out in 1985 when everything else was hair metal and synthesizers, (not to mention “Take on Me” was a thing) is pretty astounding.  All the sampled sounds such as street noises, the sound of weather, and ambient noise were all recorded from scratch because in his own terrifying words “If I want a sound, I usually feel better if I've chased it and killed it, skinned it and cooked it.”  Waits also produced the record which gave him a lot of pull, and allowed him to record in his (what would have been considered the time) unorthodox style.
            The lyrics are great because you can get just as much from listening to him singing along with the music as you would if you paid attention to what he’s saying.   Don’t get me wrong the lyrics are great: chock full of vivid description and literary devices, but the melodies are enough to take to wherever he’s singing about. A grimy dirty building, a dark narrow hallway, salty silent docks, its all there in the music.

            One of the most amusing things I find about this album is the stories of how these songs were communicated to the different musicians involved.  As I mentioned before none of these songs can adequately be described without a lot of patience and a thesaurus, so imagine having to make these tracks.  As instructions to the guitar player he said, "Play [the song] like a midget's bar mitzvah."  To explain "Big Black Mariah" to guest guitarist Keith Richards (Oh I didn’t mention Keith Richards, one of my favorite guitarists played on this album? How did I miss that?) he just “moved a certain way,” to describe how he wanted the song to sound.
            There’s really no substitute for talent, genius, the right equipment, luck, great personnel, and inspiration.  Some of these make a good album, but all of these make THE album, albums that are worth writing about, albums that are over 50 minutes long but manage to feel like minutes.  And then you listen again.

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