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4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars

on 16 March 2017
Tom waits paints pictures that spark beautiful thoughts in the listener. "theres a hummingbird trapped in a closed down shoestore" for example. tom so thoroughly deserves all the praise he gets. Rainbirds makes me sad like wandering alone in a trenchcoat solitary birds high above in the grey rainy sky. I heard someone (probably a stupid journalist critic) say theres nothing original about Tom waits. Like hes copying captain beefheart?? So dumb. Beefheart copied howlin wolf anyway!!? So shut up. Tom waits does his own amazing unique thing. Hes a storytelle poet and hes the heart and soul of the situation. Love him to bits. Swordfishtrombones is a beauty, desolate at times, always soulful and sometimes sad. Hats off to Tom Waits!!
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on 24 August 2017
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on 26 October 2010
This album is an old favorite of mine,and is the second copy i`ve purchased from Amazon(my lap-top crashed,and I didn`t have a saved copy).
Give your earholes a treat,purchase a copy,turn out the lights and listen.
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on 16 April 2002
Tom Waits' earlier albums can be pinned down like wild dogs and just about forced into their specific genres. 'The Heart of Saturday Night', 'Heartattack and Vine' and to an extent 'Franks Wild Years' can be defined loosely as jazz. But quite where to start with 'Swordfistrombones' is a hefty challenge for the most ardent of listener. Each song tells it's story of life at it's quirkiest and the intertwined variety achieved is facinating, humourous and strangely addictive.
From the romantic wheeze of 'Johnsberg, Illonois', which was written for Waits'partener Kathleen Brennan, to the jolting pound of '16 Shells From ..' and 'Dave The Butcher' this is one of few contempory albums that really does have the lot, even bagpipes! 'Swordfishtrombones' is simular in diversity to 'Raindogs' but if the gun was at my head I'd favour the former.
For what it's worth my favorite track on the album is 'Just Another Sucker On The Vine', a instrumental lament which conjures a fresh image with every engagement.
Nineteen years on and this album has lost none of it's vigour or the raw uniqueness that typifies this most gifted of artists. Frank's 'little Sedan' may be rotting in the knackers yard but Waits is still wringing his strands of creativity in the questionable modern music scene. If your looking to explore Tom Waits then make 'Swordfishtrombones' your first endeavour.
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on 8 October 2015
A rainy weekday morning in Swindon doesn't conjure up too many positive images... unless you've found a CD for £1 in a charity shop. This one. I've not owned or even heard a Waits track properly before.

By the the third track, you just know that this album is a journey, an interesting, if bumpy one. It appeals to the awkward rebelious poet in me. It won't all be wonderful or soothing and I doubt it will get played often. Classic album? Probably not but am so glad that that Heart charity has my pound. And that I have this CD.
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on 11 October 2011
tom waits has a long and illustrious career, covering many different styles. his quality control has always been excellent too. while there is the odd album that i don't particularly go for, there is no record that is entirely devoid of interest. he is always capable of a killer line, a beautiful ballad, a stomping masterpiece, or a breathtaking vocal performance. However, over his near 40 year career, there is an artistic high point that forms the basis of his reputation, and demonstrates the sheer scope of his genius. It is the mid-80s trilogy of albums, beginning with SwordfishTrombones, and going on to Rain Dogs, and finishing with Frank's Wild Years. He spent the early part of his career playing a bar bum, before experimenting with film-style music and electric blues. Here, he took such an extravagant left turn, into the "avant garde" (and i use that term with trepidation, as it would put me off, if i hadn't heard the album), that his label refused to release it, and he had to swap. I hope that original label kind of realises it got it horribly wrong. This is a huge album, huge in scope, in ambition, and in musical performance. Waits howls, whispers and hollers, dragging us into his crazy and whirling world, populated with intense and crazy characters. It's like nothing you've ever heard, but it's compelling and wonderful. One of the best things to come out of the 80s, this needs to be listened to. In terms of the tracks, there are several that provide at least a hint of being back in the mainstream: Shore Leave is a beautiful, pained, poetic standout, there are two beautiful ballads "johnsburg, illinois" and "soldier's things", and a gorgeous instrumental "rainbirds". there are a few nods back to blues, although on a far more primal gutteral basis than his previous blues albums ("16 shells from a thirty-aught six", "gin soaked boy", "down down down") and a spoken piece, "trouble's braids". it's a heady, devilish mix, and if you get into this, you may never look back.

I find it hard to recommend this trilogy enough, and for the price they currently stand at, surely it's got to be worth a pop even for the mildly curious.
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You may think everything's already been said about this album... you're wrong!

Tom's change of direction, marked by this release, has left me gradually less and less inclined to put the later albums on. It's like he feared becoming a caricature barfly, so instead became a caricatured carnival freak. His relationship with Kathleen Brennan undoubtedly has some bearing on this (more on this later).

On this pivotal release however, you get the best of both worlds. Most albums since (and including) SFT start with a rumbling uptempo oddball number (uptempo by Tom's standards as opposed to Slayer's): here it's 'Underground' (Frank's Wild Years starts with 'Hang On St Christopher', and Rain Dogs with 'Singapore', etc.). The fact this has become a bit of a formula is, perhaps, a little sad, but all three tunes referenced are utterly brilliant. So, not too sad!

Enough's been said elsewhere about the Beefheart and classical modernist influences. What I want to focus on is the remaining strain of simple romanticism (what Brennan calls his "Grand Weepers"). Brennan's appearance in Wait's life seems, from his interviews, to signal a complete change (of personal perspective/heart), redemption, and rescue even. Testament to this wonderful and simple enduring love continues to be evident in his work: 'Take It With Me' from Mule Variations being a wonderful example: "ain't no good thing ever dies". I cry every time I listen to that song.

'Johnsburg, Illinois' is, so I've read, written as a love song to Brennan, and, fittingly, it transcends the theatricaltiy of other material here with its straightforward and honest confession of love. I've always like this side of Tom most. And it's in the very fabric of his best music. I feel that one of his most sublime recordings is the fabulously minimal and haunting Rainbirds. After a brief but exquisite 'glass harmonica' intro, Waits' piano and Greg Cohen's bass paint a picture of such desolate blue beauty it floors me, it's my all time melancholy desert island disc number one!

One more testimony as to why you should buy this CD!
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on 26 September 2003
...i rolled down the gutter to the blood bank... Tom serves you amazing stories that are raw and tender, cruel and melodramatic, one eyed and sorely romantic - and everything else you can think of. Swordfishtrombones was my first Tom Waits album about twenty years ago, and led me into a whole new world of essential music. From this fantastic album you will want to go both backward and forward in Tom Waits' discography, and discover an artist that is always changing. Like he says: Watch me skate across an acre of linoleum, i know i can do it...
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on 15 October 2000
Like all of his works (except perhaps The Heart Of Saturday Night, which i've always thought of as pure jazz), this is a little hard to define, shuttling between instrumentals such as Dave The Butcher, and the wryly comic monologue of Franks Wild Years, and touching upon jazz, blues, and the frankly odd on its journey. However, musical explorations such as this are what Tom Waits excels at, and this album has bursts of eccentric musical genius which demand repeat listening. Wonderful (again).
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VINE VOICEon 19 September 2005
Swordfishtrombones is extremely similar to Rain Dogs - which can only be a good thing. In fact you could probably jumble up the tracks on both albums and put them back together in any order and both resulting albums would still hang together well. When I reviewed Rain Dogs on Amazon I said someone should make a seedy movie based on that album. Swordfishtrombones is just the same: The whole album is like theme and incidental music for an imaginary movie, a screenplay based on an imaginary book jointly penned by Mark Twain and Hunter S. Thompson. The book would be about a former sailor who escaped from an Alabama chain gang, lived rough with some hobos before hitching a ride on a cattle truck and made his way up to the Klondike gold rush, busking in seedy bars along the way.
This is an album soaked in hooch and obscured by cigarette smoke - as soon as you put it on a bottle of cheap bourbon and a crumpled pack of Chesterfields appears in your hands. This is the album which is playing on an eternal loop in the heads of all drunken bums dancing around war memorials. Like a boozed up bum, it sways from maudlin to aggressive to plain swaggering drunk. It was like, after Rain Dogs, Tom Waits just kept on drinking and they just kept on recording. And it is brilliant, sublime, discordant, funny, at times beautiful and gets under your skin just as much as Rain Dogs did.
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