Great covers

18. Tom Waits: `Rain Dogs'
Tom Waits's songs are so cinematic that their artwork usually amounts to little more than an incidental feature. Who needs the movie if the soundtrack is that good? Most of his album covers comprise Waits and a cigarette, Waits and a piano, or the cliches of modern Americana. Rain Dogs is an exception, though. Anders Petersen's photograph is the perfect accompaniment to this Rabelaisian collection of tall stories.

The real action in Petersen's photo is out of shot, somewhere at the other end of that boisterous laugh. What we get is the detail, half-glimpsed and incomplete, like action frozen in a film-still. A young man's head is pressed to a woman's shoulder; her protecting arm pacifies and reassures, while blunt fingers caress his tattoo, welcoming him home. What has he seen? Most likely, blousey dames east of East St Louis, eggs over easy and downtown trains, diminishing as they pull away. The best pictures conceal more than they expose. Tom Waits has never been better illustrated.