Sound — 9
I must admit from the beginning that "Bone Machine" is my first exposure to Tom Waits. That being said, I have a difficult time imagining a better into to an artist. Waits, I believe, deserves his own genre. This album exemplifies that more than anything. It's not really folk; it's not really jazz; it's not really alternative; it's not really rock; it's just Waits. The title, "Bone Machine" parallels the melding of musical styles; organic and mechanical come together unexpectedly, giving something old but still somehow radical. The motif of death and decay runs through the album, but rarely morbidly ("In the Colosseum" being the exception). The opening sounds of the record, appropriately enough, sound eerily like a xylophone made out of bones. Songs clearly about death and destruction like "Murder in the Red Barn" and "Dirt in the Ground" make it easy to miss the theme in more subtle songs like "A Little Rain." The sound (and especially Waits' voice) is rough at times, but intentionally so. Strange orchestrations, instruments, and rhythms add to the unearthly feel. Tom Waits is at his bizarre finest.
Lyrics — 10
On the strength of this album alone, Tom Waits has become one of my favorite lyricists. His songs move from the heartbreaking poetry of "A Little Rain" to the haunting folk story of "Murder in the Red Barn" to the flat-out insanity of "In the Colosseum." Waits, like Robert Frost is a master of saying much while saying little; a few words hold many thoughts. (His style, however, is decidedly un-Frost-esque.) This album must have been a huge influence on Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse, both musically and lyrically.
Overall Impression — 10
This record takes a bit of time to get into. It took a good five listens for me to fully appreciate it. Now, nearly a year and many listens later, I still find something new every time I put it on. It's now one of my favorite albums, and I feel it's the best record of the 1990s. It's the album to get to start on Tom Waits; if you can handle this, you can handle anything. If you like it, you'll like the rest of Waits. But there's no middle ground, either you love this album, or you just don't get it. I'd say listen to it, but not just once. Go through a few times before judging it and Waits. It may just grow on you.