Formed in 1988, Tin Machine was a rock band fronted by David Bowie with Reeves Gabrels on guitar, Tony Sales on bass and Hunt Sales on drums. The project was a way for Bowie to get back to basics with a more raw sound and put his jamming sessions with Gabrels to good use.
The band released their debut, self-titled album in ’89 along with four singles. They would make one other album after that before Bowie returned to his solo work.
How did this debut fare?
The opening track, “Heaven’s In Here”, boasts a very bluesy rhythm and riff throughout and it builds to some excellent guitar solos. It’s refreshing to hear Bowie giving so much freedom to a band and serving as simply the frontman, for once. Hard not to move your feet to this one. The title song “Tin Machine” is a faster-paced punk track that’s a hell of a lot of fun. It was the third single to be released from the album.
“Prisoner Of Love” is next and it’s a slightly darker track that’s also slightly more glam and, by extension, more Bowie. It’s a beautiful song with a catchy hook, great lyrics and first class work from the entire band who already prove themselves to be pretty damn awesome. “Crack City”, like “Heaven’s In Here”, really feels like a 70’s song. It’s very much a track built for live performances with its loud chorus and its buckets of swagger and energy. Expect more fab solos from Gabrels and a bit of a soul vibe throughout as well.
“I Can’t Read” follows and this one feels much more playful yet experimental, almost improvisational even. The screeching guitars are all over the place as the rest of the band figures out the track little by little. It’s not the catchiest of the lot but it still carries that demo-esque raw energy the project promised plus Bowie seems to play a kind of desperate character here, which is entertaining.
You simply can’t go wrong with “Under The God”: it’s the first single to be released from the album and it’s a cracker. Written by Bowie, this is a rocky, punky track worthy of Iggy & The Stooges. With its best-screamed chorus and its bluesy hook, it’s easily one of the best tracks from the band, and that’s saying a lot. Next is “Amazing”, a more chilled-out song with a timeless quality to it. It taps into a vintage rock sensibility which makes it feel like a cover of an old, classic track despite being original. Pretty amazing, indeed.
Speaking of covers, next we have “Working Class Hero”, a cover of one of John Lennon‘s most well-known tracks and one of Bowie’s favourites from the artist. The band does a good job at doing something different with it, not simply imitating the original. This version’s much more dancy and upbeat. While it’s basically impossible to outdo Lennon’s own, this is given the Tin Machine treatment and it works well both as a cover of a classic and as a song from Bowie’s band.
“Bus Stop” opens with a punk riff and, in fact, it feels like a song you could have seen the likes of The Clash come up with. A Joe Strummer cover of this one would have been cool to hear. Gotta love how short and sweet this song is, makes it just perfect. A country version of the track also exists but it doesn’t beat the one described above. Up next is “Pretty Thing” and it’s an erratically-rhythmed rock song with loads of energy and Bowie breaking up the constant beat with his vocals much like John Lennon does in “Cold Turkey”. It’s yet another terrific, fast-paced song which must have kicked ass live.
“Video Crime” is a slower, bluesier track with hip-hop-style vocals and, while it’s a good song with some superb guitar work, you could see a punk version of this one giving it a welcome extra layer of attitude, though you might then miss out on some of Gabrels’ best solos from this album. “Run” has more of a Stranglers vibe to it with the darker toned riffs and moodier vocals. Armed with a catchy chorus, genial solos, some clever breaks and fantastic vocal work from Bowie, this is easily one of Tin Machine’s finest.
“Sacrifice Yourself” is another live-friendly anthem with a faster rhythm and an ingenious mix of hard rock, soul and blues. It’s a short one but it makes for two extremely entertaining minutes. Final track “Baby Can Dance” feels very much like a Bowie effort and, indeed, he wrote this one which bears his trademark unexpected key changes and experimental vocal work. It’s a good choice to end the album on as it leaves us on a high note with its memorable chorus and epic scale. It’s the kind of big finish Bowie usually avoids but he has a ball with it here.
What can I say about Tin Machine’s debut album except…
If Bowie’s core plan for this band project was to get back to basics and deliver an incredibly fun rock album which would showcase his collaborators’ talents then his plan certainly worked out. But Tin Machine feels more than just an enjoyable side project, it’s an experiment that, as a whole, doesn’t feel so much experimental as it does fundamental. It’s a homage to different styles of rock n’ roll from a group of guys who can deliver original work which still feels timeless and classic to this day.
Tin Machine gets a very high 4 Ziggies out of 5 from us and we recommend it as a must for any Bowie or rock fan.