Acoustic Sounds

Tom Waits

Bone Machine

Music

Sound

Tom Waits 'Bone Machine' album cover

Produced By: Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan

Engineered By: Biff Dawes, Joe Marquez, and Shawn Michael Morris

Mixed By: Tchad Blake, Biff Dawes, Joe Marquez, and Joe Blaney

Mastered By: Chris Bellman

Lacquers Cut By: Alex Abrash

By: Malachi Lui

November 30th, 2023

Format:

Vinyl

Tom Waits’ 'Bone Machine' Deserves Better

UMe vinyl reissue of 1992 album ruins great remaster

And here we have it: the most pathetic vinyl reissue of the year.

It’s not the worst, but it’s the most pathetic because of how great it almost was. Like the recent Swordfishtrombones reissue, this edition of Tom Waits’ excellent 1992 album Bone Machine subjects an excellent remaster to a painfully mediocre lacquer cut. It really makes you wonder if anyone’s actually listening to these test pressings, or considering the vinyl market’s long-term viability.

Earlier this year, UMe announced a long-awaited reissue series of Tom Waits’ five studio albums for Island. These albums desperately needed reissuing—original vinyl pressings are getting expensive, and the CDs still used decades-old transfers. That’s not to mention that Bone Machine and 1993’s The Black Rider were only ever officially released on vinyl in Europe, probably cut from mastered CD-resolution digital sources since almost no one in the 90s sent analog copy tapes across the ocean. (Those original pressings in particular are incredibly rare.) CDs and cassettes were priority so labels would usually send mastered DATs that could be used for everything.

Guided from Tom Waits’ engineer Karl Derfler (himself supervised by Waits and his wife/collaborator Kathleen Brennan), Chris Bellman mastered 192kHz/24bit files from the original 1/2” flat master tapes (or in the case of Swordfishtrombones, a 1/2” EQ’d production master). The hi-res files sound incredible: dynamic and spacious, and clean whilst retaining the original recordings’ character. Those files could’ve made excellent vinyl reissues, except UMe hired Alex Abrash to cut lacquers. I’m not insulting Abrash, but it’s clearly a cost-cutting measure to use him instead of hiring Bellman to also cut lacquers. Abrash lists his cutting system and prices on his website; investigate for yourself. Whatever the case, there’s something going on that makes Abrash’s cuts sound inferior to the digital source.

Unfortunately, this Bone Machine reissue is no exception. Abrash took a 192kHz/24bit file that sounded alive and eerie and atmospheric and it’s now completely dead. (This is an album about death, but it works because under ideal circumstances the sound design provokes such visceral reaction!) The mix itself is purposely a bit veiled for artistic effect, but Abrash’s lacquer cut is straight up dull. Hard-panned elements sound like they’re choked inside a speaker instead of floating in an invisible space, and everything is smushed on a one-dimensional plane. This vinyl reissue sorely lacks the great depth of Bellman’s hi-res file or Bob Ludwig’s original CD. The chorus on “Earth Died Screaming” is supposed to startle you; it does that on the digital versions, but not the LP. Similarly, the aggressive snare on “Such A Scream” should sound like someone hitting a drum a few feet behind Waits’ vocal, but instead it sounds like someone firing a machine gun at the front. And that’s just two of the first three songs! Bass is a thick blob and despite what sounds like additional compression, the vinyl rarely sounds cohesive.

The further you crank it up, the grainer and flatter it sounds. That’s a problem, not only because it makes Waits’ voice sounds like cardboard but because it’s cut at a comically low level. The sides are very long—25 and 28.5 minutes, respectively—but even then it could’ve been louder. Ideally it would’ve been spread across two LPs, though by now it’s clear that this pressing exists merely as marketplace product that looks nice on your shelf or your wall. Records like this will eventually kill vinyl’s momentum, because why would anyone buy anything when they can access the hi-res files (and basically everything else ever recorded) for only $10.99 a month and it sounds better?

Those who’ve never heard Bone Machine, as well as those new to vinyl, might get this reissue, crank it up, and think it sounds nice and “warm.” And it certainly sounds “warm,” but the recording itself sounds that way and there are better ways to hear it. The original CD isn’t mind-blowing but still sounds much better than this reissue. Speaking of which, the new 192kHz/24bit file is a slight improvement on the original CD though the difference is negligible. There are CDs of these new Island period Waits remasters, but dithered and downsampled to 44.1kHz/16bit I doubt anyone could tell the difference between the new Bone Machine CD and the original.

GZ Media pressed the European reissue LPs while their Canadian subsidiary Precision handled North American pressings. There are some recurrent pops on the sealed promo copy I borrowed, but most of the Precision pressing is otherwise quiet enough. The artwork scans are good though the packaging quality is average. Honestly, UMe could’ve taken the original CD master and cut it DMM at Record Industry or even GZ and it would’ve turned out far better than this mess. A bass-heavy single LP with these long side lengths needs to be cut DMM for best results.

As for the actual music, it’s a beautifully dark record about death in many forms: drowning, kidnapping, decapitation, suicide, murder by axe, you name it. It’s the perfect balance of raw and produced, blending a carefully created atmosphere with with Waits’ rough voice, unconventional percussion, and vivid stories of characters facing their end. The result is a record that you very distinctly, very physically feel. Les Claypool and Keith Richards also appear. Really, Bone Machine belongs in every collection as one of Waits’ best records, in any form other than this vinyl reissue.

Music Specifications

Label: Island / UMe

Catalog No: B0037076-01

Pressing Plant: Precision Record Pressing

SPARS Code: ADA

Speed/RPM: 33 1/3

Weight: 180 grams

Size: 12"

Channels: Stereo

Source: 192kHz/24bit Digital Remaster

Presentation: Single LP

Comments

  • 2023-11-30 01:12:59 PM

    FransZappa wrote:

    ... there was a murder at the pressing plant, a murder at the pressing plant ...

  • 2023-11-30 04:27:14 PM

    Come on wrote:

    I bought the original, which sounds great, many years ago and it already was 100$. Now more than 200$ NM. Annoying that not even a remaster, directed by the musician‘s close environment, certainly digitized inbetween to avoid the best possible result from start, is capable of sounding more than disappointing.

    There are too many around without a clue how to produce decent reissues.

    • 2023-11-30 07:40:44 PM

      JACK L wrote:

      Hi

      "Source: 192kHz/24bit Digital Remaster" qtd M Lui

      To pay 200 bucks for a digital remastered LP? Thanks but no thanks !

      JACK L

      • 2023-11-30 08:03:06 PM

        Malachi Lui wrote:

        he's talking about the original pressing going for $200 NM now. the original pressing, likely cut from a CD resolution master. but if it sounds good, it sounds good.

        i assume there's NEVER been an all-analog LP of this album. the 192/24 files are the best we've got for now, and i'm satisfied with it. and no need to rant about how great your all-analog dollar bin LPs are because we've all heard it already.

        • 2023-11-30 08:42:12 PM

          Anton wrote:

          Oh, man, but I'd wager he has 40+ digitally remastered LPs. Now, we will never know.

        • 2023-12-01 03:15:05 AM

          Come on wrote:

          Yes, I think so, never guessed it would be AAA. But it’s sounding as much better as the new cut, as the original CD and the hires files.

          • 2023-12-01 04:32:27 PM

            Michael Fremer wrote:

            Can you clarify that comment? I'm not sure what it means. Seriously.

            • 2023-12-02 05:44:47 AM

              Come on wrote:

              Yes sorry, due to the missing edit function I left in my typo.

              I used an „as“ instead of a „than“ at one place unfortunately.

              It should have been: The original LP is sounding as much better than the new cut, as the original CD and the hires files (played back digitally) probably do. It seems those new LP versions of the new hires files are a complete fail.

              And yes, I also assume, this recording in that era was made in CD resolution, not analog, so that original LP is probably DAA or DDA.

              • 2023-12-04 12:42:30 PM

                Silk Dome Mid wrote:

                Oh! Hi res files! I read "hires files" as something involving renting file cabinets, which makes no sense. Just getting obtuse in my old age, I guess.

              • 2023-12-04 02:59:06 PM

                JACK L wrote:

                Hi

                " It seems those new LP versions of the new hires files are a complete fail." qtd Come on

                BINGO. I just can't agree more !

                Listening to AAA LPs is believing

                JACK L

        • 2023-12-04 04:24:50 PM

          JACK L wrote:

          H

          " no need to rant about how great your all-analog dollar bin LPs are because we've all heard it already." qtd M Lui

          Take it easy !

          This on-line audio journal is accessible to all worldwide. Tons of new comers who may have to figure out what is going in this thread, for example.

          My repeating my own audio experience is intended to be read by whoever being new here. It is not intended for a few longtimeres here, including YOU as well.

          For new comers here, they may be benefitted by reading my being vinyl smart instead of paying tons of hard-earned money to buy brandnew albums.

          This journal is not exclusively for a few of you longtimers here ! Why so narrow-minded ! So please stop ranting on me again ! Thanks.

          JACK L

    • 2023-12-01 11:16:12 AM

      JACK L wrote:

      Hi

      "There are too many around without a clue how to produce decent reissues" qtd Come on.

      Bingo ! Great minds think alike !

      JACK L

  • 2023-11-30 09:45:53 PM

    Ted Danowski wrote:

    I love this site and Mr. Fremer’s previous endeavor. Which has gone downhill by the way. I hardly ever respond to articles on this site, but I just have to. Can we just get rid of this Jack L guy? I don’t even know why he comes on this site. Every article he writes something that really has no relevance here. Just wants to keep aggravating everyone with his imbecilic $1.00 records he’s bought. So what? If you’re old enough, everyone’s bought some $1.00 record at some point. Also, I am so sick of hearing about its digital. OMG it’s digital. Get over it already!

    • 2023-12-01 11:46:15 AM

      JACK L wrote:

      Be vinyl smart instead of sour grapes !!

      JACK L

      • 2023-12-01 01:57:06 PM

        Malachi Lui wrote:

        best to be vinyl smart but still not digital stupid

        • 2023-12-02 12:56:42 AM

          Jeff 'Glotz' Glotzer wrote:

          LOL.. nope you are stuck with him!

  • 2023-12-01 10:13:41 AM

    Doors32 wrote:

    You 100% confirm my feelings after listening to this remaster. I disagreed with Mark Smotroff's review from Analog Planet, but some people didn't like my comment. I'm glad it was said professionally. Thank you for the honest reviews that I can find and read here, and sorry for my bad English.

    • 2023-12-01 11:44:27 AM

      JACK L wrote:

      Hi

      " I disagreed with Mark Smotroff's review from Analog Planet, but some people didn't like my comment" qtd Doors32.

      Bingo. Be honest to your ears. Its your music ! Why bother whoever said what to you ????

      JACK L

    • 2023-12-01 12:02:47 PM

      FransZappa wrote:

      mister Doors32, this is not AP so no need to apologize here 🤘

      • 2023-12-02 12:19:20 PM

        Doors32 wrote:

        Thank you, that's nice. I noticed I wasn't alone in questioning my AP grade, thanks :)

    • 2023-12-01 04:27:50 PM

      Michael Fremer wrote:

      I've not said a word about anything written over at my previous endeavor because I don't read anything written there, but when I heard from someone that the "Who's Next" and "Rough Mix" reissues there got positive reviews for sound, well, that's just sad to hear. Those are not good sounding reissues, period—even some involved in it told me so off the record (no pun intended). I was told the header for "Who's Next" was something like "Meet the New Boss" and really that's just pathetic. Now I'll return to not commenting about anything posted there....

      • 2023-12-01 05:57:02 PM

        Anton wrote:

        I used to love in those old sitcoms were people at the same table weren't speaking. "Please tell your brother that my friend told me that he thinks my stuffing is too bready." And then the person repeats it, even though they are all at the same table. Then, the guy answers back to the middle person, "Well, please tell your sister that I think the stuffing is just fine." Then it goes on. It's a small hobby, you should be able to read "that site!" I still do....knowing you built it. The new person seems nice, I hope there is no rancor. Both sites generally lead me to hold to my general (I said general) feeling that the first press tends to be the best press, with exceptions I can glean here and there. Best of all worlds. Love this place, hope that wasn't out of turn.

        • 2023-12-02 12:10:35 PM

          Doors32 wrote:

          I'm nice, I like calm conversations and I don't bear grudges ;) What unites us all is the love of the music we love. And like you, I also have the observation that the first press usually turns out to be the best option.

      • 2023-12-02 02:21:41 PM

        Jeff 'Glotz' Glotzer wrote:

        LOVE your comments any time you feel it.. I'd prefer to be set straight if I am wrong or anyone else for that matter. My apologies to anyone if they were offended by my strong comments in the past as well (ie: Doors32 on AP about the remasters). It's always a pursuit to understand others and contribute in a meaningful way.

        • 2023-12-02 02:26:30 PM

          Jeff 'Glotz' Glotzer wrote:

          Don't get me wrong- I still disagree with you, Doors32. Just because a reviewer agrees with your mindset doesn't mean that your logic was not flawed. I still stand by my comments there. Seeking out clean used copies of these Waits originals is a crapshoot and very expensive. 20 years ago perhaps not, but now- way.

          • 2023-12-02 05:12:45 PM

            Doors32 wrote:

            Hi, Jeff 'Glotz' Glotzer. It's you again?! I'm sorry, it's just a joke, I had to, don't be angry.

            We disagreed on the Waits remasters. And it was about their sound, not about quality control of modern pressings.

            That's right, this title and Black Rider are expensive, too expensive (that's why I'm angry that it was screwed up, because I won't pay 200 euros for the original). As for the rest, once again I have to disagree with you. The remaining titles can be found in ex condition and for up to €50. I'd say it's easier in EX condition than at an affordable price. But this doesn't just apply to Waits, the same applies to other artists.

            I buy a lot of used vinyl and don't have many bad shots. I even recently found a Steely Dan Aja, AB, Santa Maria, NM release (both cover and vinyl) for €80 including shipping. Is it a lot, yes (after all, you can have the new digital edition for 30 euros). But hey, it's a fantastic pressing! I touched it, I listened... and I don't regret a single penny for this release, as if it had just left the pressing plant.

            To summarize: I prefer a more expensive original in good condition than a cheaper, modern remaster (in most cases worse). But isn't such a hunt exciting, considering when it ends in success?

            Greetings to you.

  • 2023-12-01 11:30:00 AM

    mark evans wrote:

    At our house, UMe is known as FMe.

    • 2023-12-01 11:48:38 AM

      JACK L wrote:

      Be civil ! Save your bad mouth somewhere else, pal !

      JACK L

      • 2023-12-01 12:24:13 PM

        Silk Dome Mid wrote:

        What do you mean, "bad mouth"?? The "F" stands for Flabbergast. Any other meaning is in your own mind.

        • 2023-12-01 01:00:03 PM

          JACK L wrote:

          Sorry for jumping the gun !

          FMe can mean something pretty uncivil.

          JACK L

        • 2023-12-02 12:58:21 AM

          Jeff 'Glotz' Glotzer wrote:

          LMAO... nice recovery Silk!

  • 2023-12-01 12:00:22 PM

    FransZappa wrote:

    Earlier Bone Machines are probably cd transfers? Not arguing but you are the experts with the connections so please find out for us. Mr. Waits has European and German connections - Black Rider for instance - so why would the earlier European pressing definitively be a cd transfer? I’m not sure the new hires files sound better - I listened to them before and was not impressed and will give them another try this weekend - I just love my Bone Machine 🤭

    • 2023-12-01 01:22:15 PM

      FransZappa wrote:

      I stand corrected, they sound way better then my GZ record but … I still miss the impact op the percussion coming in on the chorus of The Earth Died screaming which the record has … but Jesus Gonna Be Here … well .. tops it all: my go to version from here!

      • 2023-12-01 01:26:52 PM

        FransZappa wrote:

        I am referring to the impact of he percussion of my German earlier pressing …

    • 2023-12-01 01:51:36 PM

      Malachi Lui wrote:

      it's highly probable that the original european pressings were from CD-resolution masters because that was the norm in the 90s. an AAA cut isn't completely impossible but it'd be very unusual for a major release at the time.

      and yes, i'll review 'the black rider' soon...

      • 2023-12-03 12:53:01 AM

        jeff kleinberg wrote:

        Can you share some examples? I have some grant lee buffalo lp's, Blind Melon Soup, many 45rpm 12 inch singles, and a bunch of other Lps with stellar sound. Oh PJ harvey dry and rid of me , with the dress, sheela and other singles all sounding great as well.

        • 2023-12-04 12:36:05 PM

          Malachi Lui wrote:

          i know for a fact that the original cuts of elliott smith's self-titled album and 'either/or' were cut from DATs (which max out at 16bit) or CD-resolution files. but they sound great, especially the self-titled, and obliterate the recent remasters. the original DMM cut of oasis 'be here now' was definitely from a CD master as confirmed by mastering engineer mike marsh. haven't heard the original vinyl, but even the clipped to death original CD sounds good compared to recent vinyl pressings (as detailed elsewhere on this site).

          basically anything cut at townhouse in the 90s was definitely from a CD-ready 16bit file. even if they cut from tape, they ditched their preview head in the early 80s (hence why quite a few townhouse cuts from the 80s sound mediocre - those digital delay lines really weren't good). the original 'ok computer' might've been cut from a CD-resolution source as well, but it still sounds absolutely fantastic (and much better than the 2017 box set). on the american side, michael and i listened to the incredibly rare US original of r.e.m. 'new adventures in hi-fi' and i think it sounds exactly like the CD i got for 50 cents.

          at a certain point, i really don't care about what the source was, as long as it sounds good. the original pressing of 'rain tree crow' (partly recorded on analog tape, part digital) sounds absolutely stupendous in every way. similarly the original townhouse DMM cut of ride's 'going blank again' sounds tonally close to but easily better than its CD equivalent (haven't yet heard the recent remaster). still, i usually have a hard time paying $200 for a 90s record whose ultra-cheap CD equivalent gets me at least 85% of the way there. also, i'm not sure how those original PJ harvey records sound but the reissue series is great!

          • 2023-12-04 09:59:05 PM

            jeff kleinberg wrote:

            Thanks, interesting reply. I feel DAT at 48khz is better than cd quality. My understanding is DMM should be independent of digital, unless you're saying, to do DMM in 90's they all used a digital delay?

            The original PJ's are stellar with HUGE dynamic range. I needed to have them, when no other pressings were available. The remasters are close, with some loss of the presence sensation.

  • 2023-12-01 12:33:51 PM

    Matthew Williams wrote:

    TMI, my friend!

  • 2023-12-01 02:59:19 PM

    chriscarcinogen wrote:

    I think I'll be spending my time over here instead of on the Analog Planet.

    Analog Planet telling the universe that the sound of this reissue is an 8 made me think they really are on another planet.

  • 2023-12-01 11:54:16 PM

    Ted Danowski wrote:

    When the other site said The Who album was fantastic, I knew then that someone’s hearing needs to be checked. Every one of the 1/2 speed masters from Abbey Road that I have read about, have been reported to be awful. I heard The Who remaster at a friend’s house. It was so bad I said take it off after the first song. I then had him put on my original Track pressing. It was so much better that my friend said, “Such a waste of money and vinyl. I’m never buying one of these Abbey Road pressings ever again!” What is wrong with some of these engineers? Don’t they listen to an original pressing? It was just really, really bad. Why anyone would give it a glowing review just makes me shake my head in disbelief.

    • 2023-12-02 12:16:57 PM

      Doors32 wrote:

      Yes, The Who and this Tom Waits this is one of many examples where AP praises bad publications, which I cannot understand. I appreciate that in most cases the editor's opinion is consistent with mine, which is why I trust this site. I question the credibility of the AP. The editors should be objective and make it easier for us to choose and thus purchase this or that edition. MF is not infallible, but I respect him and value his opinion. And well, I like this site.

  • 2023-12-02 01:01:53 AM

    Jeff 'Glotz' Glotzer wrote:

    Yeah the whole lot sucks. Super Bummed. Now watch, they'll fix it and I'll have to rebuy it. THAT pisses me off. You OWE ME, Abrash! lol. (No, seriously.)

  • 2023-12-02 04:18:23 AM

    Mark wrote:

    I think this is the best review I've read in 2023. The frustration of missed opportunities and desire for something better oozed from the page.

    It captures many of my own frustrations from this year. Record companies flogging snake oil, sharp price increases for newly released vinyl, abysmal quality control at the pressing plants, and questionable hyperbole from review websites that sound more like an extension of a record company's marketing department. I pulled one such site up (we know who...) about a literal cut & paste of record company marketing blurb embedded into the reviewer's own material, with no effort made to differentiate it as such. A fast way to lose trust...and readers. And, off topic, Discogs sellers rating albums as VG+ and Mint when they sound like crap.

    All that being said, music's hypnotic power will prevail.

    • 2023-12-02 06:01:01 AM

      Mark Dawes wrote:

      Hi Mark (I’m also called Mark) I believe Discogs ratings such as NM, VG+ etc, refer to the media condition, not the sound quality of the recording, or the transfer quality of a re-issue. A friend has been an admin on Discogs for years and highlighted that if you plan to sell a record or cassette as “NM” it has to be pristine, totally intact, only lightly handled or preferably unplayed. Discogs users will often review their copies of an LP but will conflate their opinions of the music, the recording or re-issue quality and also the media condition all at once. All the best, Mark

      • 2023-12-02 07:28:02 AM

        Mark wrote:

        Howdy - thanks for the response. We are on the same page regarding media condition, which is why I caveated the reference as off topic in my comment. For example I recently picked up a Kate Bush UK OP 'Townhouse' Hounds of Love on vinyl that was sold as VG+. The crackles were so bad I stopped it after 20 seconds. Sent it back.

        • 2023-12-04 12:46:25 PM

          Silk Dome Mid wrote:

          Seller's rating of vinyl on Discogs are all over the place. I even bought a "mint, still sealed" LP once that was all crackles. It had been rewrapped. Returned it, and the seller complained1

    • 2023-12-04 03:08:38 PM

      JACK L wrote:

      Hi

      "questionable hyperbole from review websites that sound more like an extension of a record company's marketing department." qtd Mark

      BINGO ! Glad you got the gut to spit it out ! I just can't agree more !

      Not only vinyl, sooo many audio equipment reviews have gone down the same marketeering pit as well for ever....

      Be a wise consumer to save own hard-earned money !

      JACK L

  • 2023-12-04 11:54:49 AM

    Vince wrote:

    Records like this will eventually kill vinyl’s momentum,…

    I bought this, but haven’t had a chance to play it. Assuming the review is fair, Malachi hit the nail on the head with his comment. Records are about more than the music. They are about sight, smell, touch, socializing and of course the music. They do what they do better than any other consumer media because attention has been paid to quality. If we loose the quality to greed or cost cutting, we will find ourselves without vinyl records and all they bring to our parlor, living room, or wherever.

    I remember the schlock from the ‘80s. Records so thin you could almost see through them. Flimsy covers with poorly printed art. I don’t want to go back!