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Bone Machine

4.7 out of 5 stars 104 customer reviews

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Audio CD, September 8, 1992
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Tom Waits - Bone Machine - Cd

Amazon.com

The abnormal has become the norm for Tom Waits, so, once again, Bone Machine is laden with odd timbres, archaic acoustics, and raw vocals. This time, however, Waits has built his songs around a Harry Partch-inspired fascination with primitive percussion. With a crew of Northern California musicians along to add spare adornments, Waits fashions pretty, sentimental tunes ("A Little Rain," Whistle Down the Wind") and hellish stampedes of clanging metal and hoarse shouting ("Earth Died Screaming," "Let Me Get Up on It," the latter the 53-second distillation of Bone Machine quintessence-just Waits distorted bellowing and banging. Bone Machine is both appalling and appealing. There are elements to this album that seem designed to drive away the faint of heart, and then there are melodies that melt in your hand. --Steve Stolder
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (September 8, 1992)
  • Original Release Date: September 8, 1992
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Island
  • ASIN: B000001DVZ
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (104 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #17,565 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
Those vocals. Those lyrics. That mood. This was My first foray into Tom's world: a gift when I was 14. I haven't looked back. From the alpha (the thumping primitive drums of "Earth Died Screaming") to the omega (the howling chorus of guys and guitars finishing off "That Feel"), this CD is like nothing else on the planet. This is a macabre, twisted world: a vision entirely of Mr. and Mrs. Waits devising (Kathleen Brennan is his wife and they write together- what a team!)

Lyrically, this is light years beyond so much music out there. Namely all of it. Waits never stoops to cliche, never resorts to the old, crusty, stale rhymes and metaphors that haunt the minds of most song-smiths. His lyrics are restlessly inventive and vivid. When he tells a story he lures you in, shows you the scene and leaves you there to figure out what happened and find your own way home again.

On the whole, this is a dark album, and it fits easily into his output from the 80's-90's... Songs such as "In the Colosseum," and "Murder in the Red barn," are eerie and unsettling. Still, Tom doesn't just write disturbing music. "Little rain," "Whistle Down the Wind," and "Who Are You," are more upbeat pieces, meaning the lovelorn lyrics and strange musings are masked by a major-key chord progression. The musical styles veer all over the board- never quite playing its straight, some of the songs are country sounding, some are folk, a couple are blues... But not quite. They inhabit a strange place between genres.

Some highlights:

The rusty, falsetto croon of "Dirt in the ground" set to the kind of funeral march horns and beat you'd expect to see in New Orleans, if New Orleans were populated by half-dead prophets and zombie musicians!
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Format: Audio CD
This is Tom Waits's best album, as an album. Though he has long written some of the most distinctive and original songs in popular music, Waits's albums have at times been notoriously uneven. This was mostly in the 70's, when he was putting out an album a year for Asylum, and was practically gone by the time of his 80's re-invention with Swordfishtrombones, when he started releasing sprawling, epic albums for Island. Bone Machine is the culmination of that. Though not a concept album, all the songs on Bone Machine deal with the same grisly subject: mortality. The album is death-obsessed and deals with the oft-seeming futility of the human condition. And it is, as the title of one of the songs indicates, "all stripped down." Though by the time of this album's release, Waits had long ago abandoned the piano as the lead instrument in his songs in favor of an amalgram of horns and jangling percussion, Bone Machine often strips this idea down to the bare minimum. Earth Died Screaming starts the album out appropriately, with its lyrical desolation of imagery, and its simple percussion that clangs along behind Waits's croaking delivery. The occasional guitar and piano (and, surprisingly and to good effect, steel guitar) permeates the sonic landscape, but it's largely that distinctive "junkyard percussion" sound that carries along Waits's impeding lyrics here, moreso than ever. Waits is at his croaking best on this album: his screeching, gravel-throated growl giving the gloomy lyrics the intonation they require.Read more ›
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Format: Audio CD
I became re-acquainted with Tom Waits' material through "Bone Machine" and, though the Grammy Awards now honor only musical mediocrity (with lamentably few worthy exceptions), they DID have enough sense back in '93 to recognize this CD's sublime artistry and give it an award (Best Alternative Recording, if memory serves ...).
And what an album it is.
It comes packed with Waits' usual (or should I say UNusual) suspects, characters pulled from some horrific, gothically imaginative nightmare: Slam the Crank from Wheezer (where the HELL did he come up with that name?), Reba the Loon, Cal and Chenoweth, Hannibal (or maybe just Rex), a lady drinking alone in her room, murderers lurking in red barns and a mysterious suicidal individual, turning away from death only because he knows "the ocean doesn't want me today".
We've all been in those black places, only Waits writes about them with such unflinching honesty and clarity that you cannot avoid the pain, even while you're chewing on his gravelly voice, filtered through strange microphones and musical equipment. There are no lush violins, no overblown scores here: it's "All Stripped Down" and that's just how we want you, Tom.
"Bone Machine" is all stripped down and glorious. It's percussive and raw; it borders on dangerous, lethal. Waits is one of a mere handful of truly gifted lyricists left in America today. Unlike so many "pop" artists, who lose their edge when they get married/get happy/have a baby, Waits manages to have a normal life with his wife, Kathleen Brennan (who also produced "Bone Machine") while still never losing sight of the darkness just behind that red barn ...
Right near that axe spattered with bloodstains ...
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