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Week 74 | Tin Machine 2 (1991)

Someone seems to have wanted Tin Machine’s second album to fail. Following in the tradition of Led Zeppelin and Van Halen, it is the band’s second album with the same name, which is also the name of the band (actually, “Led Zeppelin 2” is titled, “Led Zeppelin,” the same as 1, 3 and 4). There is a reason that this is a rare marketing strategy. It assumes that there is so much demand for more, that there is no need to further define the album. But that wasn’t really the case with Tin Machine.

Bowie’s name and face were absent from the album cover, which featured four emasculated statues. The first, “Tin Machine” sold reasonably well, especially upon its release, but I don’t think it is a reach to assume this was in large part due to interest in Bowie. Surely there were some (very) small number of people who fell in love with the first, “Tin Machine” and were not previously familiar with Bowie. Otherwise, Bowie fans really had to know what to look for.

There is a payoff for those who did. The album, while flawed, is an improvement over its predecessor. Gone are the preachy songs about social problems. Gone is the flat-out screaming. For the most part, the songs are melodic. My favorite Tin Machine song is “Bus Stop,” from the first album. This one has two others with a similarly ironic sensibility— “A Big Hurt” and “Goodbye Mr. Ed,” which are my next two favorite Tin Machine songs. Most of the other songs sound like they come from the same band that did, “Heaven’s In Here,” rather than, “Crack City” or “Video Crime.” That’s good.

In fact, a few months ago I found myself repeatedly listening to this album after a long period of it sitting on my shelf. My reaction at the time was that I had rediscovered the great lost Bowie album. Of course it never really was lost, but Bowie pretty much ignored it after it was released, and so did I. Most of the many retrospectives about Bowie’s music tend to either lump it together with the first Tin Machine album, or take the band at its word that the album belonged to the group, not just to Bowie, and thus did not count it as a Bowie album at all. But clearly there is a difference between the Tin Machine albums and something like Iggy Pop’s, “The Idiot” or “Lust for Life.” In the latter case, Bowie co-wrote most of the albums, played on them and contributed backing vocals. But he wasn’t the lead singer or main attraction on any song on either album (or anything on “All the Young Dudes,” or “Transformer” or “Raw Power”). With Tin Machine, we get entire albums of Bowie singing either original songs or covers recorded specifically for the albums (almost, but I’ll get to that). There should be no disputing that these are Bowie albums.

There are two exceptions to the above description on “Tin Machine 2”— “Stateside” and “Sorry,” both of which feature Hunt Sales on lead vocal. I have never thought of these two songs as awful, but they don’t really belong on the album. Apparently, “Stateside” has become infamous — Bowie chronicler Chris O’Leary wrote that it had become, “hateful” in part due to its lengthened performances at Tin Machine concerts.

Those two aside, what remains is a worthwhile album. My period of repeated listening did not last. This, after all is not, “Scary Monsters.” But Wikipedia references a review claiming it was, at the time, Bowie’s best since, “Scary Monsters.” Another review declared the same of the first Tin Machine album, and someone or the other would repeat the claim for all eight of Bowie’s subsequent albums. So while Tin Machine itself would not last, Bowie had established a pattern that would hold up for the remainder of his career.

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