Tom Waits, Bone Machine

Sam Adams

By Sam Adams

on 10.24.11 in Reviews

Bone Machine

Tom Waits
Hardly his most approachable, but surprisingly welcoming

Released after a five-year break between albums — then the longest in his career — Bone Machine marks the beginning of a era in which Waits’s records are isolated and self-contained, as if he goes dormant after each session and reemerges only after he’s come up with something to say. The marionette march of “Earth Died Screaming” recalls the clatter of Rain Dogs‘ “Singapore,” but Waits strips the songs bare as he goes, paring away the excess; “Jesus Gonna Be Here” is just upright bass, dobro, and Waits’s voice echoing in what sounds like an empty warehouse. On “In the Colosseum,” he sounds as if he’s been to hell and back and might just consider repeating the journey, the clanking percussion forging a concrete link to the album’s title. Like the contemporaneous The Black Rider, Bone Machine risks falling into a fire-and-brimstone rut, but “Black Wings” shifts the album into a slightly less apocalyptic register. “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” could be a demented Disney theme, and “That Feel” closes with a dash of ghostly gospel harmony. It’s hardly Waits’s most approachable album, but its skeletal embrace is surprisingly welcoming.