Review Summary: I'm not exactly well.
On the surface, the concept of Tin Machine
was an intriguing one. Realizing that his grasp on the mainstream pulse was dwindling following dismal records such as Tonight
and the especially atrocious Never Let Me Down
, David Bowie decided to take his eminently creative mind down the path of hard rock, pairing with guitarist Reeves Gabrels and brothers Tony and Hunt Sales (on bass and drums, respectively) to create Tin Machine, a band formed with the intent of being rooted in democracy and the members having equal involvement in creative input/financial benefits. The band's self-titled debut project was recorded with an overall feeling of spontaneity, consisting mostly of one-take recordings with no overdubs. Indeed, had the album been successful at what it was setting out to accomplish, it could have captured a more raw side of Bowie that hadn't reared its head since the Robert Fripp collaborations.
Alas, Tin Machine
is only successful at one thing: being an excruciating listen. It's hard to say if Bowie's years of writing poppier pap had completely neutered his sense of how to write a good rock song, but there's nothing to be found here. The tracks run a stylistic gamut that encompasses piss-poor glam rock and what seems to be a few tries at punk-rock, but without any of the fire or energy that good punk-rock possesses, with Bowie accurately sounding like a man in his 40s trying to muster any sort of an aggressive spark as his career fades. Bowie's vocal delivery is a rather unpleasant anomaly in his discography as well, adding grit to his high range on many songs that doesn't make him sound like a being from another realm so much as it does your average hard rock singer who drinks a lot and is more than a few years past his prime.
As for the rest of the band, the Sales brothers are a fine rhythm section and do what they can to diversify the weak songwriting, but Gabrels makes for a bizarre contrast to Bowie's mid-life crisis; he is too eager to please, adding gratuitous guitar licks to damn near every song and going to places that needn't have been explored simply due to the bounds of good taste. Of course, broken clocks are right twice a day, and occasionally Gabrels and Bowie will stumble upon a riff or a solo that works in context, but more often than not the shrieking guitars sound absurdly out of place in tracks that are far from experimental in structure. Perhaps with more in-the-pocket instrumentation and a stronger set of songs, the Tin Machine concept could have worked, but as it is, it falls flat on its face and only serves as further extension of Bowie's commercial and creative rut, one which he would spend years digging himself out of.