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LPs from the Attic: Tin Machine — Tin Machine II

August 9, 2010

Tin Machine -- Tin Machine II

David Bowie and Tin Machine: Running for the love of speed?

Tin Machine — Tin Machine II (Victory Records, 1991)

Now-defunct Tin Machine fades from memory with only a few singles and videos having ever made a dent in the charts. But, David Bowie’s late 80’s/early 90’s excursion into aggressive, intelligent hard rock wasn’t a failed experiment. In fact, if Tin Machine had their run a few years later, during the “alt-rock” ascendancy and reign of the early 90’s, the band likely would have made a bigger impact in the industry and occupied more space in music history books. It certainly would have made for a more interesting storyline in terms of how critics have characterized Bowie’s “second act.” As it now stands, writers seem to find it too easy to dismiss everything that came after the Berlin Trilogy and before the flawed comeback attempt of Outside (with Brian Eno) as products of a creatively rudderless Bowie. While not a huge fan of most of his 80’s material, I’d stop short of declaring the decade artistically dead for the Thin White Duke.

If you remember Tin Machine and their second (and final) studio album, you probably recall these items: the novelty of David Bowie being a part of an ostensibly collaborative group after the implosion of the Spiders from Mars and the furor over Tin Machine II’s “controversial” cover art.

As for Bowie working within a group setting, this album and its predecessor benefit from the unconventional, inventive guitar work by Reeves Gabrels. Rather than providing many riffs or solos, Gabrels focuses more on atmospherics and textures. As such, it offers rewards after the first listen as you try to decode Gabrel’s approach. The artfulness and quirkiness that the guitarist brought to the table pleased Bowie enough to keep Reeves on the roster long after the Tin Machine was retired.

When it comes to controversy, Tin Machine II enjoyed its share (what else would you expect from the man who brought us Ziggy Stardust?). Retailers refused to stock the album until its cover, featuring frontal depictions of naked male statues, was changed to remove the offending protrusions. True to form, rather than re-shooting the cover entirely or simply covering up those Kouros Krotches, Bowie made a statement about censorship and its effects on art: the revised cover shows the same statues, sans sexual organs, calling attention to the neutered original intent.

While Tin Machine II is no Heroes or Heathen, it’s more representative of his earlier, more self-assured band efforts and indicative of the rock sound he’d recapture success with in his solo-oriented third act. Here’s to hoping Bowie gets back in the studio and back on the road. I’m sure there’s more color left in this chameleon.

  1. Mark M permalink
    August 10, 2010 1:52 pm

    Oh wow, I thought I was one of maybe three people on the planet who liked Tin Machine.

    Amusingly enough, a friend of mine used to call his car (an Oldsmobile Firenza station wagon) the Tin Machine. Also, I wrecked my first car while listening to the first album.

    • August 13, 2010 10:08 am

      Let’s go find that third person, Mark.

      Did you catch TM on SNL back in ’91 ( I recall that performance was damn good.

      Wrecking your car to the first album is rock n’ roll. Thanks for sharing!



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