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Tin Machine

1 rating: 3.0
An album by Tin Machine
1 review about Tin Machine

the preacher and his past?

  • Nov 12, 2000
OK, up front: I was a big Bowie nut, so this album was bound to find sympathetic ears on either side of my head. It did, and I listened to this album a lot. At the time it got bunked badly in the press, and generally got a really bad rap. Here's why:

It's 1989: The whole world, not without justfication, is on a Bowie downer following the release of the sell-out Let's Dance followed by a couple of surreal, faux-theatric lemons in quick succession. Everyone's saying, hey, Bowie, cut out this rubbish; just get a band of guys together and play some real rock and roll, like the old days. Ignoring the fact that that's not what the old days were like (well, when did Bowie ever play straight, stripped back rock'n'roll with a bunch of guys?) that's exactly what he did in Tin Machine. No enormous glass spiders; no heavily made up screaming lord byrons here - just good, honest rock'n'roll.

And he got crucified, critically and commercially, for it. Thanks, Joe Public!

The record is certainly not perfect, and it's not hard to see how it failed to win over a skeptical public. And it didn't really help itself by being half an hour too long, and unfathomably indulgent in a musical sense: far too many of the songs devolve into unstructured - and untalented - jams, a product of Bowie deliberately shunning the spotlight in a futile attempt to prove this really was a band he just happened to be in. Correctly, no-one believed this at the time, and not even Bowie has tried to pretend it since.

Now maybe Bowie really did rate Reeves Gabrel as a virtuoso guitar player (he kept him for the best part of a decade after Tin Machine folded), but to my mind Gabrels was allowed far too much lattitude in this band: where the album goes off the rails is whenever Bowie stops singing and Gabrels commences his industrial strength caterwauling on lead guitar. Gabrels is certainly adept at creating disconcerting noises, but it adds only white noise to the product, and probably led to the album being mis-sold as heavy metal, which it isn't, thus meaning neither metal fans nor the general public would buy it. Which is a pity, and left it in the sale racks to the army of Bowie-nuts.

Thing is, when the songs are good, they're fantastic. Shorn of thirty minutes of dud songs and instrumental indulgence this would be a truly terrific record; on here there are some songs as good as Bowie ever has produced: imagine a single album with Heaven's in Here, Prisoner of Love, I Can't Read, Under The God, Amazing, Bus Stop, Run and Baby Can Dance, together with the storming 4/4 take on Lennon's Working Class Hero, and you have as good a Bowie album as I can think of.

Anyway, that's not how it was sold, and this turned out not to be the commercial return everyone hoped. But for the party faithful, it was a very good sign that normal service (if "normal" is a word you could ever apply to David Bowie) would be resumed shortly.

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