Tuesday, 31 July 2018
David Bowie - Black Tie White Noise (1993)
Released April 1993
Recorded in Montreux and New York City
For me, there are two parts of David Bowie's career, his Tin Machine work being the bridging point between the two. The first part is the part that really means the most to me, the second part begins here, in 1993, and heralds the start of far more use of dance rhythms and contemporary music, some of which I find less accessible than the sounds of the 1970s and 1980s.
Anyway, on to this album. It begins with an appealing instrumental, "The Wedding", which combines some "Low/Heroes"- style sonorous keyboards with a lilting, melodic bass line, some swirling saxophone and some funky guitar riffs. It is quite captivating in its own, meandering way. Chic's Nile Rodgers was on production duties again (he did "Let's Dance") and old band mates Mick Ronson (who tragically died 24 days after the album's release), pianist Mike Garson and Tin Machine's Reeves Gabrels. The next track, "You've Been Around" is a thumping piece of jazz rock and funk mixed in. Bowie briefly references 1971's "Changes" in the lyrics. The album was, I guess, intended to be a sort of "Young Americans" part two - this time updated to be a sophisticated urban soul meets dance club techno rhythms. That treatment was given to Cream's sixties blues rock classic "I Feel Free", pretty much rendering it unrecognisable. It actually just sounds like a great new, state-of-the-art Bowie song. It has mesmeric, intoxicating rhythms sliced apart by a searing Mick Ronson solo. It has to remembered that, in many ways, grunge was the music of the era, yet Bowie came out with something like this. Very adventurous as usual.
A wonderful trumpet from Lester Bowie (no relation) introduces the ebullient and stimulating title track with an instantly recognisable Bowie vocal. It has a laid-back, summery feel and a vibe similar to that which some of the tracks on "Tonight" were aspiring to. It reminds me of several other songs, but I can't bring them to mind, just snatches here and there. Despite the almost chilled out vibe at times the lyrics are typically portentous in places. Bowie certainly seems rejuvenated here, both as a lyricist and vocalist. "Jump They Say" has a frantic, dance-influenced rhythm, all repetitive drum beats per minute and swirling saxophone in places. Bowie's vocal is one of those deep, serious-sounding ones. Some excellent brass soloing in the middle. It is a very instrumentally adventurous track, despite the metronomic drum sound. "Nite Flights" (actually a Walker Brothers cover, although again it sounds like a Bowie original) has a deep, bassy and another vibrating, deep and haughty vocal. In many ways, these tracks are like some of the "Heroes" and "Lodger" material but without some of the industrial electronic vibes of that era. Some U2-style electric guitar punctuate the air. They started putting out material like this within months. I wonder why? Bowie leading the way again. It sounds cliched, but it is true.
The instrumental (save a few chanted vocals) "Pallas Athena" has some real "Heroes" saxophone blowing all around its pounding, clubby drum beat. "Miracle Goodnight" has a incredibly catchy instrumental hook and again, Bowie's vocals are a nostalgic reminder of earlier eras. "Don't Let Me Down And Down" is a somewhat twee, romantic song that would have been slated had it appeared on "Never Let Me Down" or "Tonight". It is/was so cliched and easy to criticise those albums yet praise this one. For me, I like them equally, There were good points on those albums, whatever the music media say. The song is perfectly acceptable though, but is certainly no work of genius. "Looking For Lester" is a strident instrumental featuring the talents of the afore-mentioned trumpeter once again. The presence of instrumentals on this album enhance the "Low"/"Heroes" comparisons in a tiny way, but of course the overall ambience is utterly different. Mike Garson has a trademark piano solo on the track too, which is always good to hear.
"I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday" is a cover of a Morrissey song. I know nothing about Morrissey so have no knowledge of the song but it seems to suit Bowie in a "Wild Is The Wind" sort of mournful way. "The Wedding Song" reprises the opening track with more pumping beats and wailing saxophone from Bowie, as well as a floaty, indistinct vocal. It is a relaxing end to an intriguing album. It is my favourite of this "second period" Bowie work until "The Next Day".
- July 31, 2018