Wednesday, May 26, 2010

David Bowie 25: Tin Machine II

What little momentum Tin Machine had—and really, there wasn’t much, commercially anyway—was derailed by two factors: EMI dumped him for decreasing sales, and somehow he got talked into a tour under his own name to “promote” the Ryko rollout.

Tin Machine II emerged the following year on a Polygram subsidiary. It’s not as consistent as the first album, with tracks that go all over the place and two songs sung by the drummer. But it’s still not as bad as everyone said.

“Baby Universal” kicks everything off with shouted call-and-response vocals that don’t match. It’s a good start, but “One Shot” was the first single, and not a wise choice for promotional purposes. “You Belong In Rock ‘N Roll” brings back the classic brooding Bowie sound. He uses his voice to his advantage on “If There Was Something”, a strangely timed cover of a Roxy Music song. “Amlapura” is on the dreamy side, but doesn’t sink in; neither does “Betty Wrong”. Both sound more like ‘80s Bowie than the first Tin Machine album.

“You Can’t Talk” starts the second side, but is forgotten when “Stateside” kicks in. Sung by drummer Hunt Sales, it’s been lambasted for its inclusion, but its continual chord changes and Reeves’ surprisingly understated soloing (compared to the rest of the album, where he uses a marital aid) keep it interesting. “Shopping For Girls” adds some mystery, but “A Big Hurt” is just loud, and has nothing to do with Frank Thomas. “Sorry” is the other Hunt Sales song here, which most people hated even more than “Stateside”. “Goodbye Mr. Ed” is a very enigmatic end, not counting the instrumental burst after the song fades.

Tin Machine II was barely given a chance by critics or consumers. It wasn’t a great album by non-Bowie standards, but at least it made an attempt to rock. The band was on its last legs anyway, and limped through a final tour to promote an album nobody wanted. The largely pointless but still enjoyable Oy Vey, Baby live album followed a year later to universal apathy, not helped when the label went out of business. (If anything, it shows how well the other three navigated Hunt’s tempo issues.) And that was the end of Tin Machine—sad, really, considering the promise they once showed.

Tin Machine Tin Machine II (1991)—3
Tin Machine
Live: Oy Vey, Baby (1992)—3

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