Los Angeles singer Tom Waits has always viewed his favorite denizens of the night with a charming romanticism. But with Rain Dogs Waits’s derelict characters have taken on gritty, three-dimensional life. On "Cemetery Polka" a sad accordion and rude trombone flesh out his vivid portrait of a wildly eccentric family. And the tinkling, aimless piano in "Tango Till They’re Sore" is well suited to the rambling imagination of the song’s narrator. But Waits is most coherent when he sticks to shattered dreams and tin-can sounds of alleyways. On several songs he uses makeshift percussion instruments to create a kind of hobo’s orchestra. His gift for idioms has always been impressive, but now, with a more humane and imaginative touch, Waits has found the soul of his downtrodden heroes.
Originally published in Maclean's magazine 18 November 1985