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4.6 out of 5 stars17
4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 31 January 2006
Bone Machine, by Tom Waits, is an album as eerie, desolate, shambolic and claustrophobic as its title might suggest. Really, there is no adequate way of describing the songs, sound, style or production, without falling back on descriptions like rustic, desolate, gothic, bleak, worn, weary, rusted and disturbed, with Waits stripping away any lingering sense of the lounge-jazz veneer that permeated through the slumbering melancholy of his pre-Swordfishtrombones output, to instead, create something that is much more discomforting and menacing, in terms of sound and presentation. The songs are often quite minimal, featuring piano, guitars and a smattering of horns and solo strings, and that constant percussion, from the boners on the opening track, to the fierce clatter and cacophony of something like All Stripped Down, in which the percussions sounds like anything and everything from drum sticks on biscuit tins and heavy metal doors being violently slammed shut.
Lyrically, the album is as uncomfortable as the music and production, with the first song adopting the frantic perspective of cornball 50's sci-fi with the title 'Earth Died Screaming', to subsequent tracks like Dirt in the Ground, The Ocean Doesn't Want Me, Murder in the Red Barn and I Don't Wanna Grow Up, which seem to have an unhealthy preoccupation with old age, failure, death, bereavement, murder and decay. The album switches between loud, vibrant, carnivalesque tracks with a fuller band performance and robust, theatrical vocals from Waits, and more restrained numbers, which recall the late night minimalist misery of albums like Closing Time and Small Change. The reason that the whole thing hangs together so well, regardless of tempo changes or the odd stylist anachronism, is through the deft mixing and sequencing of the album, and through Waits' peerless production. The whole record sounds gargled and muffled, as if playing through an old transistor radio, whilst certain sources have claimed that the album was recorded in an old converted storage space... which is certainly apparent from the muffled claustrophobia of songs like Whistle Down the Wind, and the fantastic closing track, That Feel.
Waits's vocal delivery is quite often a major part of the song's style and atmosphere, moving further and further away from the crooning lounge style of his earlier work and often relying heavily on lower-register growls, sinister whispers, screaming, carnival-like announcements, and menacing spoken-word laments. The vocals compliment the music and the lyrical subject matter perfectly, capturing the surreal and slightly menacing feeling of backwoods Americana and lo-fi abandon that runs throughout these sixteen tracks. As the other reviewers have mentioned, there is no real standout, with the whole album feeling complete... moving from the more surreal and abrasive tracks like The Earth Died Screaming, Jesus Gonna be Here and In the Colosseum, to the wistful downers Dirt in the Ground, Who Are You This Time? and Whistle Down the Wind (ok, I lied, if I had to choose one standout from this album, then that would be it!!). Even the shorter tracks, which seem to be there only to link the longer songs (Such a Scream, Black Wings and Let Me Get Up On It) have a great atmosphere that contributes to the overall feeling that the album creates.
Bone Machine is one of Tom Waits' many musical peaks, offering a grungy and often quite grim record that looks at a number of bleakly beautiful subjects and runs them through this bizarre musical filter, which ends up splicing genres as disparate as backwoods blues, piano jazz, college rock and Weimar influenced cabaret!! The songs hang together perfectly, and despite the bleak subject matter and the buzzing dissonance of the overall sound and instrumentation, it never becomes a chore to sit through. Instead, it represents Waits at his strongest, crafting deep and meaningful lyrics that offer heart and emotion without sacrificing his trademark wit and wordplay, combined with a number of dazzling arrangements and performances from everyone involved. Bone Machine is an impeccable album, something that could easily be considered a modern masterpiece, and one to file away with Rain Dogs, Small Change, Blood Money and Alice as Waits at his absolute best.
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Encoded within its grain are the memories of a dead friend, who would place these CDs to retell the most surreal, dirty, cynical deadbeat true life stories about the abyss of life, all floundering on the husk of a depraved human mis-tery sailing on a sewer pipe. After undertaking his Dave Allen meandering monologue for thirty minutes, in a form of hypnotism, dashing a twist of surrealistic lemon, with a hint of bitters and convert the full combustible mixture into a howl festival. Meanwhile he would savoir a short sharp barb as the end point for his final delivery, to prick any pretension.

Staying in his flat I discovered the full breadth of Tom Waits, under layers of skunk, Stella and mirth. Tom Waits and Nick Cave were favorite takes on the cock eyed world that swirled outside. This record and the ones before it, made in the 1990's whisk me back into a time capsule, of bleak cynical chimes, as the percussion shakes the chicken bones to the various pulses inhabiting a body, wrist, heart, brain and lung breath, all shifting according to their internal rhythm. A raucous growl emits from the stomach and pushes its way up through the voice box to deliver a verdict on all external appearances. We have the junked up yard of "Earth Dies Screaming," some maudlin maladies and a deep central european angst peering through the shutters of a garbage can, to clang its own version of a beat held within.

Surreal music played at 2am in a god forsaken mid western town by a bunch of heads who are ex communicated from the local church, high on Satan's weed, letting their subconscious out in a heaving, drunken frenzy emitting a white light directly to an emotional beam up ahead.

About sums up this record, for me at least.
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on 28 May 2000
I bought this CD a few months ago, listened to it once, then put it away. Something made me take it out the other night, I have been listening to it every night before I fall asleep. It's glued to my CD player. Best tracks are the primal, rocking "Going Out West", the bluesy "Dirt in the Ground", the beautiful "Who Are You" and "Whistle Down the Wind", and the poem "The Ocean Doesn't Want Me", about a man contemplating suicide.
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on 10 November 2011
Next to Mule Variations and Rain Dogs, this is my favourite Waits album. It seems almost cheerful in its delivery of dark and disturbing lyrics. Its distorted vocals accentuate rather than harm Waits' vocal talent (sort of like an anti-autotuning).

It starts with the eerie "Earth Died Screaming", with its unorthodox tempo and mix of gothic rock and country, delivered with a voice reminiscent of Captain Beefheart with a violent cold.

The deliciously deranged and sour "I Don't Wanna Grow Up" is one of the original songs that made me fall in love with him.

Also notable is the bluesy "Jesus Gonna Be Here", a beautiful representation of Waits' roots in the classic blues stylings of Howlin' Wolf and going back to Blind Willie Johnson, as well as the haunting tunes "That Feel" and "Dirt In the Ground".

The crowning song is surely the industrial-folk-punk "Going Out West". Any attempt to describe this song would destroy its dark magic; it has to be experienced to be known.

If you are already a Waits fan and still don't have this, what the hell is wrong with you?! If you're not a fan, but you want to give Waits a try, I'd say first listen to Rain Dogs; if you like that, I'm sure you'll love this.
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on 15 June 2008
Had this album since 92 , cant think of another album that i have got that still sounds so interesting after so many listens also my favourite traks change from Who are you to Murder in the red barn . Really a must have in the music collection . Mind you i played it to my mate and he hated it lol... might take 50 listens to get in to it :)
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on 4 February 2016
Tom Waits is in that strange position of being recognised as a genius but never seems to be discussed alongside other geniuses. For example, if someone asks who is the greatest US singer-songwriter people will nearly always suggest Dylan or Neil Young (I know he is Canadian) but Tom Waits name rarely comes up. However, while the other two have had albums or even periods of releasing dross Tom Waits always releases interesting albums.

Bone Machine in a way is a perfect example of his genius. It has to be rated 5 star and yet wouldn't feature in my top 5 Waits albums. The tracks are fantastic with not one weak number and move between styles in a way that shouldn't work but does - as is nearly always the case.

Should this be your first Waits album? Probably not as there are better albums in this later style and his earlier albums are more accessible. However, if you are a Waits fan you need to own this album.
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#1 HALL OF FAMEon 28 March 2004
I'm surprised there aren't more reviews of this album, which for me was my introduction to the joys of Tom Waits, Bone Machine (1992) getting great critical reviews and being cited by people like Greg Dulli and Polly Harvey. Along with Mule Variations (1999), it's the closest 'normal' Waits album- rather than soundtrack work like Night on Earth or the challenging Black Rider-album. The use of industrial clatter (The Boners here) is the major advance here on the sound Waits moved into with records like Swordfishtrombones and Rain Dogs (reminds me a bit of the Stinkfist-record by Lydia Lunch & Clint Ruin). More than evident on the great opening track Earth Died Screaming...
I find Bone Machine wonderful as a whole, so it's hard to single out specific tracks- as you mention something like Murder in the Redbarn or Who Are You, you then remember something great like In the Colosseum or the Keef Richards'assisted closer That Feel. Dirt in the Ground is one of my faves, as is the bluesy Jesus Gonna Be Here- which ideally comes after the almost suicide of The Ocean Doesn't Want Me (which reminds me of Denis Johnson's novel Already Dead for some reason- possibly as Waits is mentioned in that novel!). The best song here for me remains Goin' Out West, which is a major sonic-advance on an earlier song like Heartattack & Vine and was memorably featured in 1999's film Fight Club.
The whole album is great though- Such a Scream sounding like the missing link between Ornette Coleman and Tricky- All Stripped Down the missing link between Captain Beefheart and Mark Lanegan- & Whistle Down the Wind the kind of song that makes you wonder why Nick Cave bothers...
Bone Machine was a highlight of the early 90s and more than stands up now- not much more to say than another classic Tom Waits album....
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on 6 January 2010
As has already been said here this is a unique album in sound and lyrical content. Its dark themes and sound are undercut by strong emotion and sorrow. Yet there are also playful tracks and humour. There are many stand-out tracks but my favourites are "Dirt in the Ground", "Such a Scream," "That Feel", "Who Are You?" and "I Dont Wanna grow Up". Waits rightfully won big acclaim for this album which, although is sounds pretentious, is a work of art in my opinion and sounds like nothing else. Its my favourite Waits album along with 'Alice' which is also stunning. A great songwriter and artist.
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on 12 October 2011
this came five years after the phenomenal "frank's wild years", the third in a faultless trilogy. the question was, could he maintain that standard? the answer is, unfortunately, no. the recording quality seems more vague to me, meaning a lot of the songs begin to sound similar to each other. there's a couple of waits classics on here, "goin' out west" and "black wings", but some of this feels a little like he's recycling his material here. the lyrics just don't seem always to be on that amazingly high plateau he'd created for himself. i like some of the stuff on here, but i also find myself switching off mentally at times, and that's something i just don't do with the earlier waits.
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on 16 August 2012
Others say it in more words, and with more eloquence, but I'd like to say that this is my favorite Waits album. The two opening tunes are absolutely perfect, and most of the other songs are great too.
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