Today’s Essential Record is Bone Machine by Tom Waits. Tom is one of the master songwriters of the modern era, and this album is one of his finest works. Bone Machine takes you on a journey to a rural place, where it’s always autumn, and something sinister lurks in the twilight. Like an elegant and graceful axe blow to the skull, Tom’s gravelly baritone evokes loss, regret, anger, and hope. Truly a timeless record, and one of my favorites.
Thomas Alan “Tom” Waits (born December 7, 1949) is an American singer-songwriter, composer, and actor. Waits has a distinctive voice, described by critic Daniel Durchholz as sounding “like it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car.” With this trademark growl, his incorporation of pre-rock music styles such as blues, jazz, and vaudeville, and experimental tendencies verging on industrial music, Waits has built up a distinctive musical persona.
Bone Machine was released in 1992. The stark record featured a great deal of percussion and guitar (with little piano or sax), marking a change in Waits’ sound. The album is often noted for its dark lyrical themes of death and murder, and for its rough, stripped-down, percussion-heavy blues rock style.
“Perhaps Tom Waits’ most cohesive album, Bone Machine is a morbid, sinister nightmare, one that applied the quirks of his experimental ’80s classics to stunningly evocative — and often harrowing — effect. In keeping with the title’s grotesque image of the human body, Bone Machine is obsessed with decay and mortality, the ease with which earthly existence can be destroyed. The arrangements are accordingly stripped of all excess flesh; the few, often non-traditional instruments float in distinct separation over the clanking junkyard percussion that dominates the record. It’s a chilling, primal sound made all the more otherworldly (or, perhaps, underworldly) by Waits’ raspy falsetto and often-distorted roars and growls. Matching that evocative power is Waits’ songwriting, which is arguably the most consistently focused it’s ever been. Rich in strange and extraordinarily vivid imagery, many of Waits’ tales and musings are spun against an imposing backdrop of apocalyptic natural fury, underlining the insignificance of his subjects and their universally impending doom. Death is seen as freedom for the spirit, an escape from the dread and suffering of life in this world — which he paints as hellishly bleak…”
Waits has created a haunting, strange, surreal world, but don’t take my word for it. Listen for yourself.
“The Earth Died Screaming”
“Dirt In The Ground”
“Such A Scream”
“Who Are You”
“Jesus Gonna Be Here”
“A Little Rain”
“Goin’ Out West”
“Whistle Down The Wind”