Tom Waits – Bone Machine (1992)

FrontCover1.jpgBone Machine is the tenth studio album by Tom Waits, released in 1992 on Island Records. It won a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album, and features guest appearances by Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo, Primus’ Les Claypool and Brain, and The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards.

Bone Machine marked a return to studio material for Waits, coming a full five years after his previous studio album, Franks Wild Years (1987). 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.

Bone Machine was included on many Best Albums of the 1990s lists, including Pitchfork where it was number 49, and Rolling Stone where it was number 53.

Bone Machine was recorded and produced entirely at the Prairie Sun Recording studios in Cotati, California in a room of Studio C known as “the Waits Room,” in the old cement hatchery rooms of the cellar of the buildings.

Mark “Mooka” Rennick, Prairie Sun studio chief said:

[Waits] gravitated toward these “echo” rooms and created the Bone Machine aural landscape. […] What we like about Tom is that he is a musicologist. And he has a tremendous ear. His talent is a national treasure.


Waits said of the bare-bones studio, “I found a great room to work in, it’s just a cement floor and a hot water heater. Okay, we’ll do it here. It’s got some good echo.” References to the recording environment and process were made in the field-recorded interview segments made for the promotional CD release, Bone Machine: The Operator’s Manual, which threaded together full studio tracks and conversation for a pre-recorded radio show format.

The cover photo, which consists of a blurred black-and-white, close-up image of Waits in a leather skullcap with horns and protective goggles, was taken by Jesse Dylan, the son of Bob Dylan. He wears this same outfit in the video for “Goin’ Out West” and “I Don’t Wanna Grow up”.

A number of the songs from Bone Machine have been used in a number of film soundtracks, and have been covered by artists in varying genres.


“Earth Died Screaming” is featured in the 1995 film 12 Monkeys.”Dirt in the Ground” was featured on the 1998 movie, “Jerry and Tom.” “Jesus Gonna Be Here” is featured in the 2005 film Domino, in which Waits appears, and has been covered by the gospel group The Blind Boys of Alabama on their album “Spirit of the Century” (2001). “Goin’ Out West” is featured in the 1999 film Fight Club and has been covered by Queens of the Stone Age, Gomez, Widespread Panic, Gov’t Mule, and Australian blues guitarist Ash Grunwald. “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” was covered by Ramones for their final studio album ¡Adios Amigos!, by Holly Cole on her album of Tom Waits covers Temptation (1995), by Petra Haden and Bill Frisell on their collaboration Petra Haden & Bill Frisell (2003), by Hayes Carll on his Trouble in Mind (2008), by Scarlett Johansson on her debut album, Anywhere I Lay My Head (2008), by Squeeze on the deluxe version of their album Cradle To The Grave, and by Emily Kinney’s character, Beth Greene, on The Walking Dead fourth-season episode, “Infected” (Kinney’s musical influences also includes Waits among others). Danish band Kellermensch covered “Dirt in the Ground” on their debut album.

The album was included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. (by wikipedia)


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 very 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, full of murder, suicide, and corruption. The chugging, oddly bouncy beats of the more uptempo numbers make them even more disturbing — there’s a detached nonchalance beneath the horrific visions. Even the narrator of the catchy, playful “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” seems hopeless in this context, but that song paves the way for the closer “That Feel,” an ode to the endurance of the human soul (with ultimate survivor Keith Richards on harmony vocals). The more upbeat ending hardly dispels the cloud of doom hanging over the rest of Bone Machine, but it does give the listener a gentler escape from that terrifying sonic world. All of it adds up to Waits’ most affecting and powerful recording, even if it isn’t his most accessible. (by Steve Huey)


Brain (drums on 03. + 09.)
Kathleen Brennan (sticks on 01.)
Ralph Carney (saxophone clarinet)
Les Claypool (bass on 01.)
Joe Gore (guitar on 04., 10. + 12.)
David Hidalgo (violin, accordion on 13.)
Joe Marquez (sticks on 01., banjo on 11.)
David Phillips (pedal steel guitar on 08. + 13., steel guitar on 16.)
Keith Richards (guitar, vocals on 16.)
Larry Taylor (bass, guitar on 07.)
Waddy Wachtel (guitar on 16.)
Tom Waits (vocals, chamberlin, percussion, guitar, sticks, piano, bass, drums


01. Earth Died Screaming (Waits) 3.39
02. Dirt In The Ground (Waits/Brennan) 4.08
03. Such A Scream (Waits) 2.07
04. All Stripped Down (Waits) 3.04
05. Who Are You (Waits/Brennan) 3.58
06. The Ocean Doesn’t Want Me (Waits) 1.51
07. Jesus Gonna Be Here (Waits) 3.21
08. A Little Rain (for Clyde) (Waits/Brennan) 2.58
09. In The Colosseum (Waits/Brennan) 4.50
10. Goin’ Out West (Waits/Brennan) 3.19
11. Murder In The Red Barn” (Waits/Brennan) 4.29
12. Black Wings (Waits/Brennan) 4.37
13. Whistle Down The Wind (for Tom Jans) (Waits) 4.36
14. I Don’t Wanna Grow Up (Waits/Brennan) 2.31
15. Let Me Get Up On It (Waits) 0.55
16. That Feel (Waits/Richards) 3.11