Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Tin Machine

1987 album 'Never Let Me Down' and Glass Spider Tour that followed left the world feeling unfulfilled, and had a similar effect on David Bowie.  It was all becoming a bit stagnant, a bit trying too hard to be relevant, a bit weighed down by legacy - the phrase "best since Scary Monsters" was a common phrase in reviews.

The premise of Tin Machine was not "David Bowie And ..", it was an equal rights, equal dibs democracy - a concern he could hide away in plain sight and do the music he and his new band mates wanted to do.
As a concept, it's not too far removed from the premise of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders Form Mars.  Unlike Ziggy though, this band was about the collective - Bowie was on the verge of breaking a career, and The Spiders were on wages.
And all I've read about Tin Machine, he did uphold the democracy (to an extent - he was still prime songwriter, but arrangement and realisation was very much a band affair).
Tin Machine's life was always going to be finite - Bowie knew he would re-start his solo career at some point.  Plus there were some other suggested, but not spoken of, personal issues to contend with in the band which meant it probably ended sooner than any of them expected.  And so it was that Tin Machine gave him the renewed confidence and energy.

It certainly re-energised him again and the influence and effect can be heard in 'Black Tie, White Noise'.  It also gave him the freedom to do what the flip he liked, knowing that it was an artisitc exercise rather than a commercial enterprise (although commerciality surely came into it, I don't think he went chasing audiences or sales again).
Indeed, what came after was Bowie off exploring whatever enthused him at that moment (I suppose a harder-line version of the journey from 'Hunky Dory' to 'Scary Monsters', with a few more more jarring turns).

David Bowie approached guitarist Reeves Gabrels to work on ideas and just see what came out - he needed a lift after the tour and in his own words was "a bit lost".  Through Gabrels encouragement the band idea was spawned.  After a couple of initial experiments with line-up, Tony Sales (Bass) and Hunt Sales (Drums) were asked to join - Bowie had previously worked with them on Iggy Pop's 'Lust For Life' so knew they're capabilities.

The recording of the debut album - after an initially shaky start where the main players weerer wary of each others intentions - settled into a highly productive state - sometimes managing a complete recording, tracking, and mixing of a song a day.
Much of the recording was done as live in the studio with few overdubs, and the lyrics were either as written with no embellishment or made up on the spot.
It shows in the mixture of rock, energy, focus, delivery, and yes a little bit of arty-fartiness.  There is a certain influence that can be heard from Pixies and Sonic Youth (2 of Bowie's fave current listening).  It pre-empted, and ran alongside the nascent Grunge time, and I'm sure that the album was on the racks of, and just maybe percolated into the burgeoning songwriting of Kurt Cobain
And to repeat the statement above, what comes out is the product of Tin Machine, not David Bowie And Tin Machine.

Opener "Heaven’s In Here" is one of those ambivalent, confounding tracks where on one listen it's "nah", but at other times it's "just how good is this".  Personally I find it overlong with too many potential false endings, and the discordant playout is not all required.
But on a different day ...

I do wonder if some of the more critical critics got halfway through "Heaven's In Here", and then went no further.
And if that is the case, then they really have missed a treat - “Tin Machine” with it's edge of madness incessant riff comes flying at you.  Rocking out indeed.  There's a good chance that the titular track is the best here.
But that would be a dis-service to the many other contenders: “Prisoner Of Love”, “Crack City”, "Under The God”, “Bus Stop”, “Baby Can Dance”.
And if you can't find anything in those then there are 6 more storming tracks for your delectation - all very worthy, just in my opinion as essential as those listed above.
Add to that is a Tin Machine'd version of John Lennon's “Working Class Hero” - delivered with no less venom than it's originator.  Although with the focus on 4/4 Rock and venting the spleen, I think it loses some of the ground-down, under the surface, anger of the original.

Some say "of course, the second Tin Machine album is the best one".  Poppycock - I think those that say that are just trying be a bit arch and clever, a bit "look at me".
Tin Machine II seems to lack the spark of the debut - it's not without it's moments, but overall the debut is just a stronger document
(although there's not a bad shout to have it as a double album)

Tin Machine

Under The God

Bus Stop

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