Review Summary: Dark past / Bright future.
Bowie beat his reputation black and blue throughout most of the eighties, releasing a string of increasingly disappointing albums. As the nineties rolled in the future looked bleak for England’s great musical chameleon - few could’ve confidently proclaimed that Bowie would be able to recover from the awful Never Let Me Down
, or the divisive Tin Machine excursions. So they were as shocked as anyone when, come 1993’s Black Tie White Noise
, Bowie genuinely begun to pick himself up out of the creative gutter and start the steady walk back towards the white lights of credibility.
Inspired by his recent wedding to Iman and his experience of witnessing the 1992 Los Angeles riots, Bowie had a fresh harvest of creative seeds to sow, and so began the start his musical rehab. The main treatment to cure his rapidly declining reputation came in the form of some good old experimentation. Gone were the laborious, half-baked stadium-pop/rock outings of the mid 80’s, replaced by an increasing adoption of dance beats and jazz brass sections.
Black Tie White Noise
’s fusion of electronic, dance orientated beats and spunky jazz trumpets served as clear indication that Bowie was trying something new. It’s what he really needed, given the thing which dogged his 80s material most was his seeming lack of experimentation. It felt as though he was no longer trying to be the ruthless innovator he was in the seventies; that he was content with resting in the curve rather then racing ahead of it. In the process of detaching himself from the construction of the arrangements and melodies he not only fell into the curve but slipped way behind it. With that in mind, it’s extra satisfying to know that Black Tie White Noise
makes a conscience effort to be on trend, with Bowie finally taking control of his ship for the first time in years, claiming in 1993 that: “This time around it was more my vision”.
Black Tie White Noise
is an odd mix of drum and bass, wonderful Lester Bowie jazz trumpet warbles, and a passing intrusion of guitar and piano. It’s certainly not the most memorable or enjoyable phase of Bowie’s work, but the set is incredibly more consistent and ambitious than anything he did post-Scary Monsters
. The album is framed by the lush, sophisticated ‘The Wedding’ and ‘The Wedding Song’, which were composed by Bowie for his marriage ceremony, giving the set a proper sense of start and finish unlike its recent predecessors.
There’s nothing as grandly hit worthy as ‘Let’s Dance’ but there are definitely some interesting and enjoyable moments. ‘I Feel Free’ features a stupendous guitar undercurrent, courtesy of ex-Spider from Mars, Mick Ronson. Tragically, it was to be his last appearance on a Bowie record, after he lost his battle with cancer on 29th April 1993. Mike Garson also drops in to deploy a sophisticated, trickling piano backing to the jazzy ‘Looking For Lester’ - a highlight which sits alongside funky tracks such as the Al B Fine duet ‘Black Tie White Noise’, and ‘Jump They Say’ - a surprise #9 hit in the UK, and rightly so because it’s the finest track on offer. Gorgeous saxophones and trumpets meld together, offsetting a quirky synth arrangement, making for a minor classic.
Elsewhere, Black Tie White Noise
boasts a few other solid tracks, including the dance-heavy ‘Pallas Athena’, the odd ‘Miracle Goodnight’, the cover of The Walker Brothers’ ‘Nite Flights’, and a purposefully over-the-top reworking of Morrissey’s ‘I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday’. None of the material is likely to blow you away or make you reassess your choice for best Bowie album, but if you give the record a fair spin you’ll get a instant hit of warmth, simply because Black Tie White Noise
showed fans that David Bowie was not ready to give up yet. He was still far from reaching the summit however, but he was at least stood at the base of the hill, planning his route to the top rather than residing miles away in the cabin of disappointment he called home throughout most of the eighties.