Bowie Knifed Again

by Jim Arundel / Melody Maker

November 1991

Tin Machine are a group that…no, forget it. Nothing. If we’re honest, we’re only here for Bowie. Last time I went to see him I had to stand a quarter of a mile from the stage. Now, in the merely comfortably full Civic Hall (average age of audience: 33) I can get close enough to see that he looks like Peter Cushing starring in the Hammer production of “Ziggy Stardust And The Million Dollar Pub-Rock Band From Hell”.

…..We wouldn’t cross the road to see this lot if Bowie wasn’t involved and, even so, it took a team of wild horses with a grudge to get me out the house. Because, while we’re being frank, Bowie always was over-rated. He was useful once – blew away a few taboos, persuaded some of the more gullible types at school to turn up for geography with lightning flashes painted on their faces – but he was transparent, blodless. That “re-invention” he had every couple of albums was just a lick of delusions of profoundity, but they shared a trait with that other tin machine – the woodman from “The Wizard of Oz” – they lacked at heart.

…..Apparently, this tin machine was disturbed by signs of growing support for fascism on a recent German visit. Consequently, David announces (He was Bowie once, he’s just David now), this tour is dedicated to “the cause of rock against racism”. This seems laudable. The irony, of course, is that the new concerned, responsible and relaxed David has somehow turned out the least appealing Bowie of them all. His myth always depended on his being beyond, an alienating figure, someone somehow separate from emotions. Now that he’s simply one of the guy’s, dating models, playing a little rock ‘n’ roll, we see him for the tin woodman he always was.

…..There’s an air of desperation about Tin Machine. “Baby Universal” is the best thing they do tonight – that’s how thin the music is. Hunt, the loony drummer with an ego the size of the Holy Roman Empire, does his own number, complete with an “Everybody on the right say yeah” routine. Reeves seems, at one point, to play the guitar with, gasp, a vibrator. Tony sings a version of The Moody Blues “Go Now” (In the cavernous Civic Hall he could been singing “Gonads” for all we knew – it did sound like bollocks, I must say.) It all goes to show that democracy is detirmental to a rock group. Although Bowie’s only ever been as good as his collaborators he was a hell of a lot better when he was a dictator.

…..For some of the crowd, though, being in the room with him is enough. They love it when he plays the sax or delivers the line “When you see the famous man” and spreads his arms wide open, or when he grinds his hips while singing “heaven’s is inside you”. The rascal. But it’s never riveting or special. One or two people near me look positively betrayed.

…..Maybe the pressure of being extraordinary became too much for David and now he’s content with being extra ordinary instead. There’s sincerity here, and even dignity, and it’s not as if he’s doing medleys of hits in the Nite Spot; in fact, there’s not a single solo hit played., but…look, I’m listening to Neil Young’s “Weld” as I write and it just serves to underline how pallid Tin Machine are. Young has also recently been reborn into rock, but harder and scarier than ever. When Young used to re-invent himself it looked like an attempt to run headlong into his passions. Bowie always appeared to be running away from his, or trying to disguise a dearth. Watching him exhume his roots and search for his soul might be thrilling one day but, right now, Tin Machine are a holding pattern, a departure lounge, a purgatory. That’s the optimist in me speaking. The cynic says Tin Machine are scrap metal.


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