Farewell then, Tin Machine! The real David Bowie stands up

by Mark Paytress / Q Magazine

May 1993

The 1980s was not a happy decade for David Bowie. Although he enjoyed huge commercial success with Let’s Dance in 1983, that album also marked the point at which he slipped his artistic moorings. As a solo act, his subsequent search for a suitable musical role in the post-Live Aid world of corporate, mainstream rock produced rapidly diminshing returns, while the pre-grunge sound of Tin Machine proved an indigestible feast for many of his admirers.

….Now he has rediscovered the insistent electro-dance rhythms and sensual synth and sax textures with which he seduced critics and fans alike during the latter part of the 1970s. By Bowie’s own reckoning, “Black Tie White Noise” is an album which picks up where “Scary Monsters” left off in 1980, and if any collection of songs could reinstate his godhead status, then this is it.

….But there will be no more disguises, no starnge new characters to add to the rogues’ gallery of his 1970s personae. Right from the start – a peal of church bells introducing a sax-based instrumental which Bowie composed to be played at his wedding ceremony – the album deals primarily with the moods and experiences of the “real” David Bowie, unmediated by any fictional third party or arch dramatic irony.

….The title track is a comment on the Los Angeles riot which Bowie experienced at close quarters. A smouldering soul-funk song featuring a vocal by Al B. Sure! and a qute from Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, it’s as heartfelt and socially relevant as anything Bowie has recorded. Elsewhere, his romantic streak is given free rein, not only on The Wedding Song, but also on a gorgeously smoochy ballad called “Don’t Let Me Down And Down“, and the effervescnt Miracle Goodnight, which mixes a blippy rhthmic motif with delicate touches of highlife guitar.

….Produced by Nile Rodgers (who also did Let’s Dance), the album features a diverse roll-call of musicians including guitarist Mick Ronson and Reeves Gabrels, pianist Mike Garson (of Aladdin Sane fame) and the celebrated jazz trumpeter Lester Bowie (no relation). It is Lester’s contribution which is the most telling, lending a sophisticated jazz dimension to many of the songs – most obviously the fusion groove of “Looking For Lester” – and coaxing some of the best saxophone performances from David ever commited to disc.

….There are two covers – a hard electro arrangement of Cream’s “I Feel Free” and a window-rattling rendition of Morrissey’s ballad “I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday“, which Bowie takes over so completely that it is hard to think of it as one of his own compositions.

….For all its imagination and charm, the one obstacle to this album’s success is it’s dearth of obvious hit singles. The first single, “Jump They Say“, may boost some credible dancefloor remixes but it is not a song to rank alongside the classic Bowie hits of the past. There is some amazing stuff here – the deep electro-funk and stunning bass line of “You’ve Been Around“, the sinister, psuedo-hip hop groove of “Pallas Athena” – but none of it really singles material. The Morriessey song could be the answer.

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