Tin Machine (Virgin 21910)
Tin Machine is one of my top five favorite albums. No, really. I'm not kidding. Adjectives like "misguided," "embarrassing," or even "unlistenable" come up frequently whenever critics, musicians, or David Bowie fans talk about this disc (anyone else has probably not even heard it), and I have never understood why. The album and band are outstanding.
Taken in the context of 1989, Tin Machine can best be described as a deliberate slap in the face to all fans of Bowie's '80s-style dance-pop. It may be crass, honest, and sometimes truly obnoxious, but it never fails to maintain that sarcastic wit that has kept Bowie afloat for over thirty years. I would even go so far as to say that it is probably the closest we will ever get to seeing the "real" David Bowie.
From the opening track "Heaven's in Here," it is pretty clear that fans of "Blue Jean" are going to be categorically disappointed. It's a six-minute barrage of raw, bluesy rock that includes quite possibly the best and most jaw-droppingly inappropriate guitar solo ever recorded. This comes courtesy of the utterly brilliant Reeves Gabrels. Gabrels was Bowie's guitarist, songwriting partner, and sometime producer throughout the Tin Machine years and Bowie's more adventurous mid-to-late-90s phase. He was the man who allowed Bowie to transcend the mediocrity of the Let's Dance, Tonight, and "Day In, Day Out" years and re-discover his more experimental side.
Reeves clearly had as much input into the concept and sound of Tin Machine as Bowie did. His always interesting guitarwork is all over this disc. The rhythm section of Hunt and Tony Sales are tight and really raucous. It's a shame that their insistance to write lyrics and even sing (which produced two ghastly songs on Tin Machine II) eventually killed the band. On this disc, it is clearly a group of equals with a unified purpose. It is startling to hear.
After the astringent tone is set by "Heaven's in Here," the disc takes off into even noiser territory with the ultra-obnoxious theme song "Tin Machine." While "Heaven's in Here" still has a bit of the "old" Bowie sound to it, "Tin Machine" blasts that to pieces. Other highlights include the sarcastic ballad "Prisoner of Love," fantastically sung by Bowie, and the raging "Under The God."
As things progress, the disc reveals itsself to be full of shocks and surprises. "Under the God" is one of the heaviest and most bitter songs Bowie has written. His lyrics finally start to take on the tone of the bitter, jaded, world-weary man he truly is. Lines like Skin-dance back of the condo/Skinheads going to school. Beating on Blacks with a baseball bat/Racism back in rule or White trash picking up Nazi flags/While you were gone there was war. This is the West, get used to it/They'll put a swastika over your door are really unparalled by anything else in the Bowie catalog.
Things are equally as nasty with the slow, Velvety-simple "Crack City." As Bowie shouts Dont look at me, you fuckhead! This nation's turning blue. It's filth it clogs the highways/Its stench it sticks like glue while Reeves Gabrels mutilates his guitar, they reach a new level of stark nihilism.
After the first few jarring tracks, the disc calms down a bit before slamming out the unabashedly punk "Bus Stop," and a sassy cover of Lennon's "Working Class Hero" that quite frankly outdoes the original. The disc comes to a nice finish with a brash tune about murdering young women, misleadingly titled "Baby Can Dance."
After it's all over, the listener is left unsure of what they just heard, especially if they are familiar with the more popular Bowie. The fact that this hard, ugly disc remains hidden in the vast catalog of Bowie albums is a testament to Bowie's legacy.
Even now, as Bowie begins to slide back into a more pop-oriented sound, Tin Machine hovers over his entire discography, constantly reminding us that while "Modern Love" and "Let's Dance" are nice little songs, they were written by one jaded motherfucking bastard.
No standard Loud Bassoon rating is confrontational and cool enough to accurately encapsulate Tin Machine. I therefore award it Seven Guitar-Playing Vibrators.
Review by Dr. Martin Absinthe