Milestones: Tin Machine

[Our series of posts on albums, movies, etc. which celebrate significant anniversaries this year continues with this one. -KJ]



After his groundbreaking and highly varied work in the ‘70s, David Bowie started the ‘80s by following the noted Brian Eno-produced album trilogy—Low, Heroes, and Lodger—with Scary Monsters, arguably his last classic album. He would end the decade that brought him deserved superstar status (via the blockbuster Let’s Dance album, in particular) by choosing the one option this chameleon-like artist had yet to embrace: to become an equal member in a four-piece rock band. It was also the last time Bowie would find himself ahead of the musical curve.

Joining forces with American co-hortsstunt guitarist Reeves Gabrels and the former Todd Rundgren rhythm section comprised of Sales brothers Tony and Hunt, on bass and drums, respectivelyTin Machine debuted with a self-titled, raunchy, bluesy, heavy-hitting record that deftly quotes and insinuates elements of the previous 25 years of guitar-based rock music. (We’re looking at you, Reeves.)
It not only earned positive reviews but also predated the raw, unadorned music that followed in the wake of the Seattle-based grunge explosion of the early ‘90s.

Loaded with gems, the album rocks hard (“Heaven’s In Here”, “Under the God”, “Pretty Things”, “Video Crime”, the title track) but doesn’t forsake catchy melodies for power (“Baby Can Dance”, the Who-influenced “Bus Stop”) and includes one of Bowie’s most beautiful love songs: the trippy, near-psychedelic “Amazing”, as well as quite a few instances of social commentary. (The cover of John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero” does not improve one bit on the original, but then again it wasn’t much to begin with.)

Surprised and baffled by Bowie’s new band and the perceived shift in his seemingly established aesthetic, a few detractors were aghast: noted critic Ira Robbins of the Trouser Press Guide called it “blunt, vulgar, violent, ephemeral and derivative” and accused Bowie of using Tin Machine as an excuse “to revisit his past under cover of an autonomous timeline (thereby escaping accusations of regression)”. All of this may or may not be valid, but in the end, like all albums ultimately do, Tin Machine speaks for itself. And the quite pleasing, roaring sound it makes comes across loud and clear.

[Tin Machine cover art courtesy of allmusic.com]


Lito Sandoval said...

I loved Tin Machine. too bad (or maybe for the best?)they only put out 2 full albums. funny how critics always use derivative as a put down. Given that, isn't rock and roll itself derivative of the blues??

godihateyourband said...

i found tin machine pretty horrid, and i'm a bowie guy (maybe not as much as xmastime) AND a sales bros guy. it's a bit revisionist to say it inspired the grunge scene, since TM was itself was bowie's nod to the pixies (who inspired the foo fighters), who he had fallen in love with. as i recall, they also covered the pixies in their sets ... and i remember that pasty boy wasn't wearing a shirt

Mighty High said...

Tin Machine is almost as amazing at The Ting Tings.

Kiko Jones said...

Lito, critics basically got upset over Bowie getting raunchy and letting loose and not following their perceived aesthetic plans for him.

GIHYB, that first Tin Machine album was released in '89 and nothing in the mainstream sounded quite like it. (The Pixies were still underground artists, who eventually influenced Nirvana; not so much the Foos. The Seattle boom--and the subsequent surge in guitar rock--happened 3 years later.

Finally, Mighty High dislikes Tin Machine only because it was a Bowie project. If the same music were made by 4 unknowns he'd be all over it.

In essence, the critical position--that Bowie was making music beneath his stature and talent--and that of people like Mighty High--oh, if only someone other than Bowie were involved--help explain why Tin Machine were not more successful.

Todd Totale said...

Right on. Well, there goes another Lost Classics idea, ya bastard!

Kiko Jones said...

Ha! Welcome aboard, Todd. Glad you enjoy the 'Machine.