Tin Machine

Tin Machine

EMI, 1989


REVIEW BY: Roland Fratzl


At some point around 1988, David Bowie must have finally woken up and smelled what he was shoveling.

Having lost all confidence and desperate to stem the flow of unmitigated disasters that were his last three albums, for the first time since the mid ‘60s, Bowie formed a band,  called Tin Machine, in which each member (theoretically, at least) had equal input. I guess it was his way of diffusing responsibility, so that if the music turned out to be crap (which it had a great chance of doing given the remarkable tumble in the quality of his output), he wouldn't have to bear the brunt of the criticism for once.

Luckily for Bowie, he set himself up with some very capable musicians with Tin Machine, and their self-titled debut album turned out to possibly be the best thing he was involved with in the ‘80s. All the awful, uninspired dance pop, synth reggae, and bland soft-rock that nearly caused me a brain hemmorage has been replaced with surprisingly listenable, non-generic semi-hard rock. And the most welcome surprise is that it doesn't even sound commercial!my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Even more shocking is that there aren't any bad songs on the album at all, and the guitar playing by Reeves Gabrels is consistently imaginative and distinctive, lending a somewhat experimental, art-rock lean to the music. About time – I doubt I could have survived another Tonight.

Now, as refreshing as it is to finally hear Bowie singing on decent material again, that's all this stuff really is in the end - decent, not great. After the initial strong impression wears off, you'll likely come to realize (if you have flawless taste, like I) that the disc doesn't have all that much replay value. Despite the interesting guitar work, none of the songs are truly captivating. I blame that mostly on the rudimentary vocal melodies, and guess whose fault that is?

Yup, poor old Dave is the weak link here. His flat performance is the main reason this album is now just a mere curiosity for Bowie fanatics rather than the intended artistic comeback that it could have been. He hadn’t quite re-discovered his old fire just yet, but Tin Machine is certainly a strong step in the right direction (even though he looks like a fool in the suit.)

 The real downfall was Tin Machine’s timing; released during the vapid depths of the tasteless hair metal and dance pop era, it was ahead of its time, anticipating the radically different, harder edged alternative rock and pop that would explode in the early-to-mid ‘90s. Though a laudable attempt by David Bowie (let’s admit it now, it’s a Bowie album in everything but name) to once again be an innovator, Tin Machine unfortunately did not suit the market tastes of its day.

Rating: B

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© 2008 Roland Fratzl and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of EMI, and is used for informational purposes only.