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Audio CD, June 15, 1990
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$7.39 & FREE Shipping on orders over $35. Details Only 5 left in stock (more on the way). Ships from and sold by Gift-wrap available.

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Swordfishtrombones + Rain Dogs + Bone Machine
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

The first album of the loose trilogy that also includes Rain Dogs and Franks Wild Years, Swordfishtrombones marked a radical departure for Waits, whose avant-garde ambitions became plain not so much in his lyrics or subject matter--the songs here deal, as do his older albums, with hard life on the wrong side of the tracks and dreams of escape and transcendence--but in the music, a sound somewhere between German cabaret music from between the wars and contemporary Manhattan rush hour. Odd time signatures, unusual instrumentation (glass harmonicas and brake drums, among others), and Waits's barked vocals make this one of his most individualistic and challenging albums. --Daniel Durchholz

Listen to Samples and Buy MP3s

Songs from this album are available to purchase as MP3s. Click on "Buy MP3" or view the MP3 Album.

Song Title Time Price
listen  1. Underground 2:00$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen  2. Shore Leave 4:17$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen  3. Dave The Butcher 2:20$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen  4. Johnsburg, Illinois 1:33$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen  5. 16 Shells From A 30.6 4:33$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen  6. Town With No Cheer 4:28$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen  7. In The Neighbourhood 3:07$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen  8. Just Another Sucker On The Vine 1:46$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen  9. Frank's Wild Years 1:52$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen10. Swordfishtrombone 3:08$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen11. Down, Down, Down 2:16$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen12. Soldier's Things 3:23$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen13. Gin Soaked Boy 2:24$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen14. Trouble's Braids 1:18$0.99  Buy MP3 
listen15. Rainbirds 3:14$0.99  Buy MP3 

Product Details

  • Audio CD (June 15, 1990)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Island
  • ASIN: B000001FTJ
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,432 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

64 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Bill R. Moore on March 9, 2002
Format: Audio CD
Few artists ever seek to completely re-invent themselves on record, and fewer still make the transformation as completely successfully as did Tom Waits. His 70's albums are revered for their delicate, string-landen piano work with Waits croaking out lyrical strands of barstool philosophizing in a pseudo-Louis Armstrong growl. These albums are good, strong efforts, but they had become somewhat predictable by the time of 1980's Heart Attack & Vine (although that album, and it's predecessor, Blue Valentine, had started to introduce new elements into Waits's music.) Swordfishtrombones, then, was a complete re-invention. Out go the strings and piano work (almost entirely in the case of the former, much less overt in the case of the latter), out go to late night bar-obsessed Beat poetry of the lyrics, out goes the Louis Armstrong growl. This album, instead, featured light, sparse, percussion-driven arrangements, with chugging basslines and occasional freakish burts of kaleidoscopic guitar. Lyrically, it was still drenched in weirdness, but moreso than ever - Waits's tales range from the insane poetry that would come to dominate his next album, Rain Dogs (Underground, Shore Leave), to his other typical 80's style song that he still leans on heavily in concert when he plays (16 Shells, Down, Down, Down), to the outright bizzarre and hilarous (Frank's Wild Years, In The Neighborhood.) We also see his vocals take on a more Howlin' Wolf-esque leaning - one critic described the album as sounding like "The Three Penny Opera as sung by Howlin' Wolf." Although this was the prototype for all the rest of his albums since it, it can be a bit hard to get used to (not that all of his albums aren't), if you are used to his earlier efforts. But, like any great album, it takes some time to grow on you.Read more ›
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Robert C. Hamilton on June 11, 2004
Format: Audio CD
By the early 1980's, Tom Waits had perfected his style. His beatnik-barroom persona was clearly defined, his throaty voice familiar to a very dependable, if not especially large, fan base. This is the point at which most popular musicians reach an apex, enter "legendary" status, and release a string of albums that often simply pastiche their earlier successes. But Tom Waits is not an ordinary "popular musician."
Consequently, he re-invented himself in 1983 with Swordfishtrombones. Choosing to jettison his record label and produce the new album himself, he also left behind the combination of strings and piano that had backed so many of his previous songs, replacing them with scratchy electric guitars (often plucked), bizarre organs, glass harmonicas, and most of all, a huge variety of drums. The result is a CD full of arresting soundscapes in which his voice, always distinctive, becomes an instrument in its own right.
The lyrics are different also. Though he is still most certainly singing about life's unfortunates, the typical references to hookers, bars, and closing time are replaced with mystifying, often nightmareish story-lyrics in which the listener more often gets the gist, rather than the details, of the circumstances described. Though "Frank's Wild Years" is a spoken song and might at first seem similar to the spoken-word masterpieces of, say, Nighthawks at the Diner, this song is not about your typical drunkard but rather a psychopath who, unable to stand his suburban existance, burns down his house and drives away laughing.
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 30, 1999
Format: Audio CD
This album represented a new chapter in Tom's career, and a stunning chapter it's been. This is the album to play for people who have never heard him before, because it showcases all of his talents: strong emotional lyrics that don't stoop to hackneyed sentimentalism and tired "heartland" images; sturdy, singable melodies with a voice that sounds the way the characters in the songs would most likely sound; and a willingness to experiment with new sounds, old sounds, weird sounds, and most of all...effective sounds. Here is a man who, like Kurt Vonnegut in literature, shows us the ugly side of man, and shows us how to love him anyway. I only wish I had made it myself! The criticism I hear most often of this artist is that the listener doesn't "like his voice". These are often the same people that would pan Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Dylan. If you need proof that Tom can sing, listen to "Johnsburg, Illinois." He's got humor, he's got sensitivity, and he's got a vicious way of getting ride of Chihuahua's. Don't miss out.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By darren on March 10, 2000
Format: Audio CD
Circa 1983, Judas Priest and AC/DC filling most of my vinyl collection, it's 11:25 p.m. on a school night, and I'm up watching David Letterman for no particular reason other than not wanting to go to bed. On comes a strange little man with a gravel filled, cigarette burned, whisky soaked voice and a billy goat beard, claiming he was born in the backseat of a taxicab. What? Then he plays "Franks Wild Years", which was just plain foreign music to a teenage metalhead. But I liked it enough to keep watching. Letterman asks him to play another, so he plays "one of (his) favorites", which turned out to be "On the Nickel" from Heart Attack and Vine. I went out and bought Swordfishtrombones and Heart Attack and Vine the next day. What's my point? Tom Waits is great. Talented, funny, quirky, strange, brilliant, and lyrically captivating at times....don't believe the words to "Shore Leave" or "Johnsburg, Illinois". And the music is so original and different, it fills the void where "normal music" fall right off the face of the Earth.
It's tough being a Tom Waits fan in the midst of a world that just don't get it. But we are out there and love each other's conversation on the subject. Back when I first started dating my (now) wife, she loved Tom from the song I played. Blonde haired, blue eyed babe who loved Tom Waits from the first listen.....Now THAT was an attraction.
"Rain Dogs", "Frank's Wild Years", "Bone Machine", "Black Rider", "Mule Variations" I love, love, love 'em all, even when everyone around me is yelling to put on something else.....
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