SAVAGE – David Bowie Cuts The Crap

by Paul Du Noyer / Q Magazine

May 1989

DAVID BOWIE/TIN MACHINE
Tin Machine

EMI USA MTS 1044 LP/Cass/CD

What a racket. Bowie’s new record, the first with his so-called Tin Machine band, is the loudest, hardest, heaviest effort of his whole career, and offers the listener an experience that’s not unlike allowing your head to be used as a punchbag. Stranger still, you’ll come to find you kind of like it.

Tin Machine, the album, is obviously a result of some re-thinking on Bowie’s part. It veers dramatically off the circular, self-absorbed, pedestrian path he’s trudged across the past two or three LPs, and revives his energy levels and all-round excitement quota by recalling some of the bolder moments of his musical history – Width Of A Circle, Jean Genie, the most jagged edges of Ziggy Stardust – and cops a feel off hard rock inspirations such as Jimi Hendrix and, perhaps, prime time Sex Pistols. Nor is it coincidental that his choice of rhythm section (Tony Sales on bass, brother Hunt Sales on drums) is the same one he deployed on Iggy Pop’s 1977 storm back to form Lust For Life.

With its line-up completed by guitarist Reeves Gabrels, Tin Machine sets about its task with quite savage gusto. There are monstrous, marauding riffs, brawling beats, mucky and drunken mixes, every song apparently lurching headfirst into the next. The record has a unity – or, viewed another way, a lack of variety – entirely unlike any previous Bowie album, and strikes you first as a purgative exercise in crap-cutting. Several listens in, though, individual tunes begin to make themselves heard, and in the end their emotional simplicity establishes Tin Machine as a more accessible sort of record than we’re used to from the man who once made artifice the crux of his manifesto.

Crack City, for instance (its riff lifted bodily from Hendrix’s version of Wild Thing) surveys the same apocalyptic vistas or urban disintegration that he used to prance among with goblin glee; this time around, though, he depicts it with unequivocal disgust. Heaven’s In Here, Amazing and Prisoner Of Love, meanwhile, are openly and romantically positive. If there’s one uncertain note, it’s struck by Bowie’s reading of Working Class Hero: Lennon’s original was cynical and self-pitying (“A working class hero is something to be”), but gained a sort of poignancy from its bleakly disillusioned view of how empty a life can be after dreams have all come true: here, however, the treatment is just too rollicking, too boisterous, to carry much of the irony.

Reprised elsewhere, and more successfully, are Bowie’s Laughing Gnome-vintage London accent (on I Can’t Read) and toy soldier marching beat (on Bus Stop), and his old facility for blanked-out numbness (I Can’t Read, again, and Video Crimes), where the character’s detachment evokes the value of passion by virtue of its chilly absence.

Overall the man himself sounds more at one with his music than at any time since the days when the back pages of music papers carried ads for six-pleat “Bowie pants” and matelot caps. Happily, those items have been consigned to history. Better still, his talent has not.

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