I’ve owned Tin Machine twice, once a year or two after it came out but since only two tracks really stuck for me I sold it again, buying it again five years later in a fit of optimism; I think I played it once and put it away until today. Overall people seemed to like the idea of Bowie re-joining a band in 1989 and getting re-energized from the whole process and then seemed to get a bit grumpy because Tin Machine really did seem like a band and it wasn’t Bowie-fied enough* – I liked it because he swore for the first time I could remember since ‘Time’**.
Don’t look at me you fuck head
This nation’s turning blue
Its stink it fouls the highways
Its filth it sticks like glue (Crack City)
I’ve just had a very pleasant revelation, Tin Machine is really, really good. It’s raw enough, polished enough, hard enough and cool enough. Interestingly most of it wasn’t as frantic as it was purported to be at the time. Take opener ‘Heaven’s In Here’, possibly my favourite track on the album too. It just lopes along in a decidedly cool fashion, catching fire later courtesy of some absolutely stellar guitar from Reeves Gabrels, I think it sounds a little like late period Led Zep, or Robert Plant’s solo work – possibly the influence of co-producer Tim Palmer? Right from the word go you can tell that Tin Machine were a band and not just a backing trio for Bowie, true enough he’s there being all Bowie-like around the harmonies, but his contribution is subsumed into the music as a whole. Plus ‘Heaven’s In Here’ is about adult stuff, you know, nudge-nudge, south of the border escapades***, which has to be worth an extra bonus point or two.
Again I really enjoyed the thrashy ‘Tin Machine’, which wasn’t hard rock enough for me when I first heard it but not I just dig the slightly chaotic gait of the thing as it lurches towards you threatening to collapse under its own momentum. There are shades of Iggy here for sure, hardly surprising given the Sales connections, but much more than that too, a genuine anger behind the scenes. It really is as though Bowie has somehow unlocked his emotions from all those arch, fabricated 80’s albums of his, ‘Prisoner of Love’ feels real, slightly overwrought but real. What an old smoothie:
Like a sermon on a blues guitar
Love walked into town
I was drowning so slowly
One step in front of your shadow
I’m a prisoner of love but I’m coming up for air
Add in some more fantastic guitar touches and you have another seriously good track. I also think that basically I have never listened to Tin Machine properly and that maybe it benefits from being a) blasted pretty loudly b) not treated as background music and properly concentrated upon.
As well as boasting the world’s most blatant Sabbath steal and at least 50% of the swearing on Tin Machine ‘Crack City’ is a wonderfully jaundiced drug track in the, umm, vein of Lou Reed New York. It’s a pretty simple affair really an impassioned rant delivered over a close relative of the ‘Wild Thing’ riff, again some great guitaring and singing on this one, before it all disintegrates under its own weight, plus it gets bonus points for stealing the ‘Helter Skelter’ false-fade ending. Genius that I am, I’m also probably the first person in the whole wide world to spot a sneaky band reference here too,
And place you underground
There is lots of good stuff here, I like the arty under-formed ‘I Can’t Read’ and the bristling anti-Nazi ‘Under The God’ in particular. I’m also a bit of a sap for the rather soppy ‘Amazing’, which had just the sound that U2 would nab a few years on. That’s not to say there aren’t a few bum notes here and there, I can never like ‘Working Class Hero’ – I have too much of my self invested in the original to even give it a fair hearing, there are also a couple of average tracks padding out the second side a little – stand up straight ‘Video Crimes’ and ‘Baby Can Dance’ I’m talking about you!
I’ll say it again Tin Machine was not the debacle we have all been conditioned to believe it was and it probably deserved a much better hearing than I gave it first time around, by the same token it is no epoch-moulding classic either. It is a really good-sounding, well-tailored, well-produced guitar album, the lack of polish is its’ best quality for me and it really did sound like Bowie cared again for the first time in almost a decade. This album deserves your ears.
*not a bad thing considering a lot of 1980s Bowie.
**6 shits, a piss, a whore, a single asshole, a solitary butthole, dicks and fuckheads by themselves and 2 fuckings: Bought to you courtesy of 1537 swearometrics – ‘Countin’ cussin’ since 2013′.
***if I have got this hideously wrong it was about El Salvador, or something else from 1989 then please feel free to keep it to yourself, I’m very insecure.