Bowie’s Tin Machine – Was It Any Good?
Bowie shelved his solo career in 1989, retreating to the relative anonymity of band membership for the first time since the early 1970s. A hard-rocking quartet,Tin Machine came into being after Bowie began to work experimentally with guitarist Reeves Gabrels. The line-up was completed by Tony and Hunt Sales, whom Bowie had known since the late 1970s for their contribution, on bass and drums respectively, to Iggy Pop’s 1977 album Lust For Life.
Though he intended Tin Machine to operate as a democracy, Bowie dominated, both in songwriting and in decision-making. The band’s album debut, Tin Machine (1989), was initially popular, though its politicised lyrics did not find universal approval: Bowie described one song as “a simplistic, naive, radical, laying-it-down about the emergence of neo-Nazis”; in the view of biographer Christopher Sandford, “It took nerve to denounce drugs, fascism and TV … in terms that reached the literary level of a comic book.” EMI complained of “lyrics that preach” as well as “repetitive tunes” and “minimalist or no production”. The album nevertheless reached number three in the UK. Tin Machine’s first world tour was a commercial success, but there was growing reluctance—among fans and critics alike—to accept Bowie’s presentation as merely a band member. A series of Tin Machine singles failed to chart, and Bowie, after a disagreement with EMI, left the label. Like his audience and his critics, Bowie himself became increasingly disaffected with his role as just one member of a band. Tin Machine began work on a second album, but Bowie put the venture on hold and made a return to solo work. Performing his early hits during the seven-month Sound+Vision Tour, he found commercial success and acclaim once again.
In October 1990, a decade after his divorce from Angela, Bowie and Somali-born supermodel Iman were introduced by a mutual friend. Bowie recalled, “I was naming the children the night we met … it was absolutely immediate.” They married in 1992. Tin Machine resumed work the same month, but their audience and critics, ultimately left disappointed by the first album, showed little interest in a second. Tin Machine II ’s arrival was marked by a widely publicised and ill-timed conflict over the cover art: after production had begun, the new record label, Victory, deemed the depiction of four ancient nude Kouroi statues, judged by Bowie to be “in exquisite taste”, “a show of wrong, obscene images”, requiring air-brushing and patching to render the figures sexless. Tin Machine toured again, but after the live album Tin Machine Live: Oy Vey, Baby failed commercially, the band drifted apart, and Bowie, though he continued to collaborate with Gabrels, resumed his solo career.