The Rainmakers “have been on quite a journey since [their] self-titled debut was released on Polygram Records back in 1986. Eleven years and four records later the band is back at square one: their new album released on an independent label, new bass player Michael Bliss in the band, and a new generation of music fans who’ve never heard of them” (Showcase).
“As if starting over in the music business isn’t difficult enough, their new album Skin tackles the complex and taboo topic of pornography” (Showcase) and “the Western concept of sexuality and the physical, emotional, and psychological damage that gender roles can cause” (Purvis), “not exactly listener-friendly subject matter. It’s these kinds of creative risks, though, that have kept The Rainmakers so vital throughout an unstable rock and roll scene. Now more than ever, The Rainmakers’ revved-up, political, and distinctly Midwestern brand of guitar rock matters in the grand scheme of American music” (Showcase) as they deliver their best work since their debut. “Skin is darker and swampier compared to earlier albums, but it still has all the right ingredients. This is an intrinsically American recording filled with mud ‘n’ bones with tales from the underbelly of the heartland’ (Hawkins).
“The band’s early ‘90s career hiatus, a new marriage, and a perspective-shattering personal awakening helped” (Showcase) singer/guitarist Bob Walkenhorst “shape the controversial concept for the…album” (Showcase). As he says, “‘Being married and having two daughters made me look at the subject…‘Seeing that the world waiting for my daughters was much more dangerous than the world that was waiting for me. Seeing it happen to your children is a sobering moment for any father’” (Purvis).
He tackles “objectification of women, the onslaught of sex-driven media, guilt, the lasting impact of abuse, porn addiction, the numbing of the mind, the staggering statistics of violence against women, and the duality of nature” (Showcase). “Some songs verge on preaching but fortunately end up asking questions more often than giving answers” (Hawkins). “Only a frontman as amazing as Bob Walkenhorst could shape an entire album around this taboo topic, and never be preachy, cheesy, or redundant” (Rundman).
Walkenhorst knew that “to make this record, [the rest of the Rainmakers] would have to feel as strongly as he did about the concept” (Showcase). Guitarist Steve Phillips said, “‘We had some hairy discussions, because from a business standpoint it was like ‘Are you insane? You're going to do a whole record about THIS? Aren’t you afraid nobody’s gonna buy the record?’ [to which Walkenhorst replied], ‘Steve, nobody's buying our records anyway!’” (Showcase).
While Phillips and drummer Pat Tomek were on board, the move “prompted bassist Rich Ruth to leave the band. Walkenhorst says Ruth felt the album was all about censorship, not about human sexuality, and Ruth just didn’t feel comfortable being a part of the group any longer” (Purvis). As Walkenhorst sings on the album, though, “This ain’t about books that need burning…This ain’t about sin, it’s about civil rights.”
“While the subject matter remains consistent throughout the recording, the musical landscape is varied enough to keep even stubborn listeners interested” (Purvis). For an album about pornography, the musical approach is ironically stripped down. Whereas the Rainmakers previous albums sounded like they came right out of a local bar, the music here sounds more fitting of a coffee house setting. It feels much more like a Bob Walkenhorst solo album than a band effort. The sound proved oddly prophetic since the Rainmakers went there separate ways and Walkenhorst went on to release his first solo album (albeit six long years later).
“The attack on Western standards of human sexuality begins in earnest on” (Purvis) “the album’s kickoff song (and first single) Different Rub” (Rundman). “Set to a sinister hillbilly guitar riff, the song parallels objectification of women with slavery: "Granddaddy at the minstrel show/ watch the darkies frail the old banjo/ Grandson at the strip club/ a little racism with a different rub/ it’s the same difference/ with a different rub’” (Rundman). The song also “depicts a young boy looking through a pornographic magazine and describes the airbrushed, surgically enhanced women that he sees” (Purvis). “Hot dot on a printed page/ Airbrush every sign of age/ Going under the surgeon’s knife/ Stepdaughter of a Stepford wife/ That ain’t what a woman is.” Quite different stuff than the stereotypical misognynistic content of rock and roll.
Siamese Twins offers a masterful dissection of male sexual duality and “marital infidelity and standards of female beauty” (Purvis). “Walkenhorst’s lyrics depict men as wanting to have both the security of somebody to love and also a purely physical fantasy woman whom they can be with on the side” (Purvis): “This is the story of the double life/ How you can take one love/ Make her your wife/ Yet hold onto this image of a fantasy world/ Where every woman looks like a teenage girl.”
“Good Sons and Daughters and Too Many Twenties address the uncontrollable lust that hides deep in every male, with…Tomek and…Phillips laying down some of the most rocking, nastiest instrumentation you’ll ever hear” (Rundman). The former addresses the issue of a male-dominated society with with lines like “The Revolution came, the revolution went/Not meant for us all, just that fifty per cent” while the latter song gets a little lost in its weakly-conceived chorus. Still, the message about the revolting statistics about how many women are raped or abused is sobering stuff. This is a long way from the feel-good, pub-dancing flavor of the Rainmakers debut.
In just glancing at the album titles, the title track and Tattoo would seem to fit well into the album’s overall concept. The former “suggests that sexual images are so pre-packaged that people don’t even know what they want anymore. Sexual images of women on television, in advertising, in nearly every area of life are so pervasive that both men and women follow these ideals blindly, without knowing whether it’s what they want or what they want to be” (Purvis). The song explores humanity in general with that age old “Who am I?” style questioning, all the while giving “new bassist Michael Bliss opportunity to play a brilliantly psycho bass line underneath Walkenhorst’s desperate singing” (Rundman). Meanwhile, the latter is the Rainmakers’ best ballad since “Small Circles” off their second album.
“The band shows their versatility when they execute the beautiful acoustic Remember Me By, the spoken-word Million Miles Away, and the mindblowing Reddleman Coming, a frantic account of the horrors of porn addiction: ‘he come selling that dirt that stain your soul/ saying this don’t hurt anyone at all/ just sink your eyes into little girl lost/ but don’t waste your time, it don’t wash off/ reddleman coming, he’s coming for me’” (Rundman).
Lead guitarist Steve Phillips takes the reigns on Did You See the Lightning, which “celebrates a healthy romance in the midst of a perverted world” (Showcase). “Also moved to write was drummer Pat Tomek, who passed along the haunting lyrics of Hunger Moon to Phillips, who then constructed a beautiful mandolin arrangement around Tomek’s verses” (Showcase). They aren’t bad, but they aren’t on par with Bob Walkenhorst’s songs.
Eclipse has Begun “is an uplifting rocker with huge guitars, and the album closes with the Irish chant To the Hum that will bring a tear to the eye of anyone who knows the reality of true love” (Rundman). As the album’s closer, the song introduces a new element to the band’s catalog, though – acapella. Of course, it also closed out the band’s career. The last song on their last album. Not a bad way to go out.
“These songs are cynical, angry, deadly serious, motivating, empowering, and liberating. Skin should be required listening for sex offenders, seminary professors, and media moguls” (Rundman). “This is important music for smart people. It’s music that can change the world, and it still makes you want to dance. THAT’S what perfect rock and roll does” (Rundman).