Tin Machine: Tin Machine

May 22, 1989 – Tin Machine: Tin Machine is released.
# Allmusic 4/5 stars
Tin Machine is the debut album of Tin Machine, released on this date in May 1989 by EMI. It met with some success, winning generally positive reviews and reaching #3 in the UK album charts.
The group was the latest venture of David Bowie, inspired by sessions with guitarist Reeves Gabrels. Drummer Hunt Sales and bassist Tony Sales formed the rest of the band, with “fifth member” Kevin Armstrong providing rhythm guitar. The project was intended as a back-to-basics album by Bowie, with a hard rock sound and simple production, as opposed to his past two solo albums. Unlike previous Bowie bands (such as The Spiders from Mars), Tin Machine acted as a democratic unit.
The band prepared some demos in LA before moving to Mountain Studios in Switzerland and then on to Montreal and then finally to Nassau. The band did not have much luck recording in Nassau, finding it hard to record in the midst of the “coke and poverty and crack,” which inspired the album track “Crack City.” The songs on the album tend to stick to topics such as drugs and urban decay. All songs were a group effort, and the band recorded 35 songs in just six weeks.
The tracks on the album were recorded raw and live with no overdubs to capture the energy of the band. Bowie elaborated, “We wanted to come out of the box with energy, the energy we felt when we were writing and playing. There’s very, very little over-dubbing on [the album]. For us [it] is our live sound.” There were no demos made for the album; Gabrels said “Basically the album is the demo.”
Tony Sales, bassist for the band, described the band’s approach to the music they created:
      “We were so sick of turning on the radio and hearing disco and dance music and drum machines; all that stuff, which I think in the business they call “crap.” We were just thinking about doing a project that would put an end to rock ‘n’ roll.”
Life’s a bitch. Love’s not much better. All your idols have turned into whores. And even the music sucks these days. Here beginneth, and endeth, the lesson of TIN MACHINE – the most cynical, indignant and acidic record David Bowie has made since THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD. And that 1970 horror show of violence, corruption and emotional treachery was a tea party compared with the physical, aesthetic and spiritual disaster areas mapped out on TIN MACHINE.
Lofty success and a guaranteed place in history, combined with the inevitable pensiveness of middle age, can do weird things to a pop star’s world view. But did you think you’d live to hear Bowie spit out words like these: “Piss on the icon monsters / Whose guitars bequeath you pain… Corrupt with shaky visions / And crack and coke and alcohol / They’re just a bunch of ******es / With buttholes for their brains”?
That’s just a taste of the acrid “Crack City,” scored to an oppressive scrap-metal “Wild Thing” thump. Then there’s the title song, ostensibly an indictment of Thatcherite Britain (“There’s more than money moving here / There’s mindless maggot glare”). At the end, though, Bowie takes a hard right turn into reactionary rock criticism, roasting the new generation of howling punk-metal mutants: “Blue-suede tuneless wonders / Mass confusion – faithless blues… Fractured words and Branca-sonic [a reference to New York avant-guitarist Glenn Branca] / Anger trapped behind locked doors / And right between the eyes.”
Actually, that’s pretty funny coming from a record that at times sounds like Sonic Youth meets STATION TO STATION, with telegraphic Bowie verse that crackles like some Morse code from Armageddon. After the half-baked LET’S DANCE reruns on Bowie’s last two albums, TIN MACHINE is an all-too-welcome feast of aggro-guitar flamboyance and bass-drum body checking. When he’s at his best, newcomer Reeves Gabrels attacks his lead-guitar chores with a relish and dynamism that suggest Mick Ronson with a CGBG apprenticeship. Rhythm siblings Hunt and Tony Sales, who worked with Bowie on Iggy Pop’s 1977 resurrection tour, maintain maximum whack. Meanwhile, Bowie revels in the maelstrom with some of his most animated and least affected singing in years.
Bowie contends that Tin Machine is a real band, an equal partnership (can we see the paychecks?), that it is not just another solo vehicle for rock’s consummate role player. But there is no denying that he is a, if not the, pivotal figure on the album. Better than half of TIN MACHINE’s fourteen songs – two of which, “Run” and “Sacrifice Yourself,” appear only on the cassette and the CD – are prime Bowie rock, rooted in the spangled raunch of the Spiders from Mars but updated with late-Eighties postpunk freneticism. “Under the God” storms along like Ziggy Stardust fronting a slightly slower Ramones, with Gabrels jacking up the blitzkrieg-bop quotient with a jackhammer-guitar intro. “Pretty Thing” cooks like – what else? – high speed Pretty Things, a serrated variation on those Sixties mod-beat covers on PIN-UPS, complete with a feedback-and-drum-orgy coda. “Sacrifice Yourself,” which is too good to be merely a cassette-CD tease, sounds like a long-lost shrapnel fragment of “Suffragette City” or “Queen Bitch” given a hardcore work-over.
TIN MACHINE, the album, and Tin Machine, the band, both falter when frenzy outstrips ideas, when Bowie pours on the recriminating lyrics without providing a redeeming melody. “Crack City” and “Video Crime” are undone by gorilla-rock simplicity and relentlessly poisonous wit (“Don’t whore your little bodies / To the worms of paradise…” Don’t look at me you ****heads / This nation’s turning blue,” from “Crack City”). Both songs are bereft of tune and subtlety, and Gabrels, lacking a good hook to play off of, noodles around in Van Halen-Satriani hyperspace. John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero,” the album’s only cover, is also hopelessly overwrought, padded out with kitschy heavy-metal angst. A more restrained reading along the stark lines of Lennon’s original, with Gabrels going for more discreet ambient effects (like the sobbing seagull effects and distant air-raid sirens he uses elsewhere), would have created a striking dramatic contrast and probably have been more appropriate to Bowie’s TIN MACHINE theme of social and emotional disenfranchisement.
Ironically, it’s when love, however battered or bruised, comes to town – “Amazing,” “Prisoner of Love,” “Baby Can Dance” – that Tin Machine most effectively reconciles the bracing noise of a full-tilt electric band with the nuances of Bowie’s writing craft. In “Prisoner of Love,” Gabrels heightens Bowie’s mix of urgent apocalypso rock and moody desperation with a collision of punctuative effects – moody Frippertronic dervish lines one minute, car-horn honking the next. “Amazing,” which makes up in romantic simplicity what it lacks in poetic profundity, recalls Bowie’s brilliant marriage of Dylanesque folk and lightly applied T. Rex glitter a la “All the Young Dudes,” Gabrels echoing Bowie’s haiku valentine (“I’m lazy / You crazy, girl / Stay by my side”) with sensuous strands of taffylike fuzz guitar.
“Baby Can Dance” is the beauty, though. It ends the record with a potent combo of desire and resignation, guitar chaos and melodic allure (in the addictive, bittersweet chorus).
It also provides welcome relief from the preceding, almost nonstop hammering. In its own way, TIN MACHINE is a kind of balls-to-the-wall counterpart to Lou Reed’s NEW YORK, an opera of social and moral collapse, except it lacks the finely tuned irony and the nightly news immediacy of Reed’s LP. Bowie’s Book of Revelations reads more like A CLOCKWORK ORANGE: “Washington heads in the toilet bowl / Don’t see supremacist hate / Right wing dicks in their boiler suits / Picking out who to annihilate” (from “Under the God”).
Frankly, Bowie belabors the obvious on much of TIN MACHINE. Yeah, life is a bitch. The future looks grim. Your idols are bound to turn into whores if the temptations are great enough. And, yeah, there is plenty of music out there today that sucks big time. (Did someone mention NEVER LET ME DOWN?) But some of the best songs on TIN MACHINE are about not giving up, about finding the will to love and survive. And the rest of the best transcend their grim lyrics with the electricity of performance. If TIN MACHINE is a hit-and-miss proposition, there are still enough direct hits to send you, as Bowie puts it in “Under the God,” “one step over the red line… ten steps into the crazy.” And with “crazy” like this, you can put up with anything. (RS #554)
~ David Fricke (June 15, 1989)
“Heaven’s in Here” (Bowie) – 6:01
“Tin Machine” (Bowie, Gabrels, Sales, Sales) – 3:34
“Prisoner of Love” (Bowie, Gabrels, Sales, Sales) – 4:50
“Crack City” (Bowie) – 4:36
“I Can’t Read” (Bowie, Gabrels) – 4:54
“Under the God” (Bowie) – 4:06
“Amazing” (Bowie, Gabrels) – 3:06
“Working Class Hero” (Lennon) – 4:38
“Bus Stop” (Bowie, Gabrels) – 1:41
“Pretty Thing” (Bowie) – 4:39
“Video Crime” (Bowie, Sales, Sales) – 3:52
“Run” (Armstrong, Bowie) – 3:20 (Not on vinyl version)[2]
“Sacrifice Yourself” (Bowie, Sales, Sales) – 2:08 (Not on vinyl version)
“Baby Can Dance” (Bowie) – 4:57
The 1995 Virgin Records reissue of the album included a live, country-styled version of “Bus Stop” recorded in Paris on the band’s 1989 world tour.

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