Black Tie White Noise is the eighteenth studio album by David Bowie, released in 1993.
The poor reception of the albums Tonight and Never Let Me Down, combined with the relative critical and commercial failure of his side-project Tin Machine, saw Bowie's critical standing at a low point, with fans and critics alike having come to view Bowie as having lost his relevancy after decades of leading the zeitgeist in popular music. Prior to the release of this album, he met, and later married, the model Iman Abdulmajid. Their wedded bliss was reflected in the songs "The Wedding" and "The Wedding Song".
The album reunited him with producer Nile Rodgers (who helped produced Let's Dance) and his Ziggy-era guitarist Mick Ronson, who would later pass away from liver cancer that same year. Despite featuring the same producer as Let's Dance and a similarly slick, pop-friendly sound (as well as coming out just in time for its tenth anniversary), Bowie denied claims that the album was a third attempt at doing a follow-up to his 1983 megahit, stating that if they had intended to make a Let's Dance II, they would've done so back when it was still relevant. That said, the album acts as a decent Spiritual Successor to the album that first catapulted Bowie into international superstardom, and combined with the artistic renaissance that followed, it acts as an apt casting off of the legacy of Bowie's 80's period, briefly bringing back the suit-clad, pop-peddling Sharp-Dressed Man for one final album before definitively closing the door on it.
The album received lukewarm critical reception at its release and was fairly divisive among fans, in both cases for its continuation of Bowie's pop-oriented sound that had previously marked his creative nadir in 1984-1987, not helped by the fact that an entire third of the album is made up of song covers (which, while not on the same level of Album Filler as Tonight, still raised the same kinds of eyebrows). At the time, it led many fans to fear that the 46-year-old Bowie had fallen into the mold of an aging, once-successful artist who shifted to adult contemporary as a financial failsafe; the album still remains divisive to this day, with majority opinion leaning negative. Consequently, most fans tend to write off this album in favor of seeing its successor, the Darker and Edgier industrial Rock Opera Outside, as the true start of Bowie's silver age.
Despite this, it was nonetheless the album that ultimately ended the Dork Age triggered by the follow-ups to Let's Dance and started his Career Resurrection that would continue until his death in 2016. Specifically, the album is credited with restoring Bowie's commercial standing among audiences, being his first album to reach No. 1 on the UK Albums chart since Tonight in 1984 and his last to do so until The Next Day 20 years later, though in the US it would peak at a more modest No. 39 on the Billboard 200, signifying Bowie's return to mere cult popularity in America after having previously maintained a good mainstream standing since Young Americans in 1975. The album would additionally be certified gold in the UK, Canada, and Japan, missing certification in the United States (his first album to do so since Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps); fittingly, that album was the one that restored Bowie's commercial standing in the region pre-Tin Machine). Whatever one's opinion of the album, its commercial success most certainly paved the way for Bowie to continue rebuilding his artistic standing throughout the remainder of the 90's; in a 2011 retrospective review of the album, BBC journalist David Quantik stated that "as a statement of the next stage of Bowie's career, it was perfect."
The singles produced by this album comprised of the UK Top 10 hit "Jump They Say", as well as the Title Track and "Miracle Goodnight".
- "The Wedding" (5:04)
- "You've Been Around" (4:45)
- "I Feel Free"note (4:52)
- "Black Tie White Noise" (4:52)
- "Jump They Say" (4:22)
- "Nite Flights"note (4:30)
- "Pallas Athena" (4:40)
- "Miracle Goodnight" (4:14)
- "Don't Let Me Down & Down"note (4:55)
- "Looking for Lester" (5:36)
- "I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday"note (4:14)
- "The Wedding Song" (4:29)
"Putting on the black tie, cranking out the white tropes":
- Bookends: "The Wedding" and "The Wedding Song" are variations of one another, and respectively serve as the first and final tracks on the album.
- Call-Back: "You've Been Around" contains the lyric "You've ch-ch-ch-changed me," a clear reference to "Changes" from Hunky Dory.
- Color Motifs: White appears to be one for this album. The album cover makes considerable use of whitish tones, the disc label and interior tray art are predominantly white, the back cover and liner notes feature heavy white portions, and the jewel case's disc tray is clear (a rarity in 1993; all-transparent jewel cases wouldn't become standard for another two years), exposing the white background behind it.
- Cover Version: Four such songs fall into this category:
- Driven to Suicide: The protagonist of the song and video "Jump They Say".
- Epic Rocking: "The Wedding" and "Looking for Lester" are both over five minutes.
- Face on the Cover: The album cover just a close-up of his face.
- Hard Truth Aesop: "Black Tie White Noise", which Bowie wrote in the wake of the 1992 Rodney King riots, presents the Aesop "Racial harmony is possible, but not without great difficulty and violence along the way."
- Instrumental: "The Wedding" and "Looking For Lester".
- In the Style of...: Bowie's cover of "I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday" was deliberately performed to match the style of its original artist, Morrissey, who in turn based the song on Bowie's vocal style. Bowie noted the circularity of this in an interview.
- Lighter and Softer: In comparison to both Never Let Me Down and the two Tin Machine studio albums, Black Tie White Noise is poppier and less dour in its subject matter (partly due to Bowie coming fresh off the heels of his wedding with Iman, partly due to being produced by Nile Rodgers, who had previously produced Let's Dance). That said, the Title Track and "Jump They Say" still demonstrate Bowie's willingness to cover less-than-optimistic topics in his work.
- Limited Lyrics Song: "Pallas Athena".
- New Sound Album: Compared to the pop rock sound of his last solo album and the hard rock/proto-grunge sound of his Tin Machine duology, Black Tie White Noise is more a blend of art rock, acid jazz, and electronic music, being most easily categorizable as adult contemporary; Bowie himself stated that his goal with the album was to create "a new kind of melodic form of house."
- One Steve Limit: Averted; one of the musicians on the album is Lester Bowie, who is unrelated to David Bowie.
- Other Common Music Video Concepts:
- The Making Of The Video/Monochrome Backdrop : Although not an official music video, "Nite Flights" has Bowie being filmed in front of a blue screen with multiple spotlights being shone on him.
- Refrain from Assuming: Invoked with "Jump They Say" - the way it is sung in the chorus makes it sound like "They Say Jump".
- Ripped from the Headlines: The title track is less than subtle about the fact that it was inspired by the 1992 Los Angeles race riots.
- Sexy Sax Man
- Sharp-Dressed Man: In all the music videos and live performances from this era.
- The Title Track includes the phrase "what's going on?" as an allusion to the Marvin Gaye album of the same name, thanks to both the Bowie song and the Gaye album featuring social commentary on race relations.
- The experiments conducted on his character in "Jump They Say" are based on those conducted on the protagonist of the French sci-fi short La Jetée. (The Criterion Collection's DVD of the short includes an excerpt from a French TV program about this video and its homage.)
- Another shot near the end of the video for "Jump They Say" mimics the infamous photo of Evelyn McHale's 1947 suicide, tying in with the song's subject matter of Bowie's half-brother's own suicide in 1985.
- The Something Song: "The Wedding Song"
- Surreal Music Video: "Jump They Say" and "Miracle Goodnight".
- A Wild Rapper Appears!: Averted in "Black Tie White Noise"; Al B. Sure! provides guest vocals on the track, but sings instead of raps, duetting with Bowie.