Saturday, 2 June 2018
Tin Machine - Tin Machine (1989)
Released May 1989
Recorded in Montreux and Nassau
Bowie’s 1989 “Tin Machine” experiment, where he formed a “democratic” band with guitarist Reeves Gabrels and the rather odd Sales brothers was roundly mocked and derided by the music media and fans alike, which is actually extremely unfair. The intention was to strip things down, become a “band”, as opposed to a David Bowie vehicle, and return to some raw, hard rocking, guitar-driven rock music. All good so far, nothing wrong with that. The problem came maybe because of the seemingly endlessly hype from Bowie about how glad he was “just to be one part of a democratic band” and how good it was to be back on the road again, playing small flea pits. Unfortunately it all seemed just a tad pretentious and it would have appeared to alienate a lot of people. “I love Bowie, anything but Tin Machine though” was an often heard statement at the time, and over the following years. To add to that, Bowie’s dress was downstated and drab and he was bearded. No costumes or new “character” guise.
What I feel, though, is if this album had been released as a standard David Bowie release, the media would have been awash with “return to form” and “Bowie returns to his rock roots” quotes. The album would have been said to put 1987’s “Never Let Me Down” to shame. The fact that was not given any credibility at all it such a pity. In retrospect, though, people have started to view it more kindly, realising that in its grunge sound, Bowie was again ahead of his time (Nirvana were still a struggling small venue band at the time).
This is an excellent Bowie rock album, like “The Man Who Sold The World”, “Ziggy Stardust” and “Aladdin Sane”. The opener, “Heaven’s In Here” is a impressive start, while the title track is a frantic, punky piece of breakneck fun, with Bowie’s mockney vocals to the fore. “Prisoner Of Love” is as good a track as anything Bowie had done for several years. “Crack City” is a mighty, powerful cut - again somewhat punky and grungy, all choppy guitars and nihilistic lyrics. It wouldn’t have sounded out of place on “The Man Who Sold The World” though. Bowie’s voice is on top form here. It is a sort of “Diamond Dogs” track for the late 1980s.
“I Can’t Read” is a bit raucous and irritating, to be honest, although it has some understated bass lines in parts and some great guitar, but “Under The God” is another quality slice of urban guitar rock. This is another of the album’s cornerstones. It is an ear-spliting experience though. “Amazing” is as close as it gets to a drop in intensity and has hints of 2013’s “The Next Day” album about it. Bowie’s cover of John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero” is excellent, turning the stark song into an insistent, menacing rock groove. Gabrels’ guitar is electrifying on this.
“Bus Stop” is another great track. How any Bowie fan could not get some enjoyment out of this is beyond me. The grunge attack continues with the remaining tracks to the end of the album and by now, it does get a bit exhausting. Listened to as a whole, all 14 tracks, it can get a bit jarring - the pace and the raw, pounding sound never lets up. There’s no “Lady Grinning Soul”, “Soul Love” or “The Supermen” to change the soundscape and ambience for a while. But a track or two here and there every now and again is a pleasure. Listen to something like “Pretty Thing” as a one off and it is genuinely exhilarating. Or, alternatvely, listen to the first seven or the last seven together, allowing more appreciation to the individual tracks, such as the excellent “Run” and “Baby Can Dance” from the last seven.