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Music / Tin Machine (Album)

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"Fascist flair is fashion cool. Well you're dead— you just ain't buried yet."

Tin Machine, released in 1989, is the eponymous debut studio album by British-American Alternative Rock supergroup Tin Machine, formed the year prior to help frontman David Bowie break out of his critical and artistic slump post-Let's Dance. Produced with a deliberately raw and improvisational style with little overdubbing, the album exerts a more hard rock-oriented sound that sharply contrasts most of the rest of Bowie's 80's output; guitarist Reeves Gabrels described it as the band "screaming to the world" and "a project that would put an end to rock 'n' roll." The album is also much more openly socially-conscious than Bowie's prior oeuvre, with "Under the God" scathingly criticizing social and institutional racism, neo-Nazism, and white supremacy.

The hard rock direction wasn't the main intention from the get-go: when Bowie and Gabrels originally convened to try and help the former rediscover his artistic muse, the two originally planned to take on an art rock-driven direction in the vein of Bowie's most famous works, to the point where Bowie re-recorded "Look Back in Anger" as a starting point. However, the duo's meeting with former Todd Rundgren collaborators Tony and Hunt Sales (sons of Soupy) led to the musician brothers orienting Bowie's new sessions in a harder direction, with Bowie drawing inspiration from The Pixies, a band he quickly grew to admire since their inception. The end result of this was the formation of Tin Machine and the recording of this abrasive, rage-driven album.


Tin Machine was released to rave critical reviews and was the subject of heavy hype from the public and press (including a half-hour performance video on BBC2 and an appearance at the 1989 International Rock Awards) thanks to how different it was than Bowie's prior albums with EMI America Records, but sold nowhere near as much as its predecessors; while it still peaked at No. 3 on the UK Albums chart, No. 10 on Rolling Stone's College Albums chart, and No. 20 on the same magazine's broader albums chart, it sold too low to be certified in any region and missed the Billboard charts altogether. Additionally, the album, like Tin Machine themselves, later became the subject of scorn among both fans and critics, who became increasingly apprehensive of the idea of Bowie being reduced to just a band member and came to view this album's intentionally simplistic lyricism as juvenile. Bowie himself would also start to agree more with these sentiments, which contributed to their short lifespan (disbanding in 1992) and resulted in their second and final album, the aptly-titled Tin Machine II, being much more elaborate in production and Bowie-esque from a musical and lyrical standpoint.


Because of the album's relative failure compared to Bowie's previous 80's albums, EMI grew threateningly apprehensive of Tin Machine, motivating Bowie to ditch the label in 1990; he would still license international distribution of his 90's solo albums to EMI subsidiary Virgin Records until 2001, and let them produce and distribute the 1999 remasters of his albums between Space Oddity and this one. Despite the constant drubbing throughout the 90's and 2000's though, both Tin Machine and Tin Machine have started to become Vindicated by History in recent years, with music analysts noting how the album and its follow-up, in true Bowie fashion, predicted the rise of grunge as a mainstream force in the 1990's. As a testament to its influence on the latter genre, co-producer Tim Palmer recalled to Tin Machine guitarist Reeves Gabrels that he caught the members of Pearl Jam listening to "Heaven's in Here" during the mixing for Ten.

Furthermore, despite rumors that Bowie experienced Creator Backlash towards his stint in the band, he would constantly reiterate in the years after Tin Machine's disbanding that he quite enjoyed the project, considering it the outlet that both let him rediscover his love for music (after nearly retiring out of Artist Disillusionment in the wake of Never Let Me Down and the Glass Spider tour's overwhelmingly negative reception) and allowed him to finally break free of the pop rock pigeonhole Let's Dance carved for him back in 1983. As a testament to his fond memories of Tin Machine, Bowie would re-record "I Can't Read" for the 1997 film adaptation of The Ice Storm, releasing this version as a single that same year to promote the film, with another re-recording of the same song being made around the same time for an early draft of Earthling. This other take ultimately went unused, but later resurfaced on the posthumous Is It Any Wonder? EP in 2020.

Tin Machine produced three singles: "Under the God", "Tin Machine", and "Prisoner of Love". Additionally, a 13-minute promotional video directed by Julian Temple was produced, featuring live performances of (in order) "Pretty Thing", "Tin Machine", "Prisoner of Love", "Crack City", "Bus Stop", "Video Crime", "I Can't Read", and "Working Class Hero" at the Ritz in New York City; Temple had previously directed Jazzin' for Blue Jean and the music videos for "Absolute Beginners" and "Day-In Day-Out". The video was not commercially released until May 22, 2019, when Parlophone Records uploaded it to Bowie's official YouTube video to commemorate the album's thirtieth anniversary.

Where this album ranks in Bowie's discography is... complicated. Contractually, it was a David Bowie album, and as such is included in the 1999 reissue campaign of the man's solo works, credited under Bowie's name. However, the members of Tin Machine considered themselves and the material they put out as a separate entity from Bowie's solo material. Additionally, fans will gladly classify Tin Machine as either a Bowie project or a Tin Machine-exclusive project depending on who you talk to; Bowie's status as the Face of the Band only complicates this, despite his own attempts to avert it. As such, it's hard to definitively say whether or not Tin Machine is its own thing or a part of the David Bowie release timeline. As a bit of a compromise, this wiki includes the album among Bowie's solo works on the "Creator" page (and will do the same for Tin Machine II if/when a page gets made for that), while the "Music" page places it and Tin Machine II in a separate category.


  1. "Heaven's in Here" (6:01)
  2. "Tin Machine" (3:34)
  3. "Prisoner of Love" (4:50)
  4. "Crack City" (4:36)
  5. "I Can't Read" (4:54)
  6. "Under the God" (4:06)
  7. "Amazing" (3:06)
  8. "Working Class Hero"note  (4:38)
  9. "Bus Stop" (1:41)
  10. "Pretty Thing" (4:39)
  11. "Video Crime" (3:52)
  12. "Run" (3:20)*
  13. "Sacrifice Yourself" (2:08)*
  14. "Baby Can Dance" (4:57)

*Exclusive to CD releases.

I've seen the best tropes of my generation laid out in cemeteries and crematories:

  • Acceptable Religious Targets: In-Universe; "Bus Stop" is an unsubtle criticism of religious fanaticism.
  • Acid Reflux Nightmare: The narrator of "Bus Stop" speculates that his friend's vision of God may be the result of "some blue cheese or the meal we ate down the road."
  • Agnosticism: The narrator of "Bus Stop" describes himself as "a young man at odds with The Bible."
  • all lowercase letters: The album and liner notes almost exclusively feature this, with only the copyright information and catalog number being given proper capitalization.
  • Belief Makes You Stupid: Well, more "fanatic devotion to religion makes you stupid" in the case of "Bus Stop". The song isn't outright dismissive of religion, with the narrator stating that "I don't pretend faith never works," but it does make a point to criticize how blinding religious fanaticism can be when left uncontrolled.
  • Bowdlerize: The liner notes censor all heavy swearing, with every offensive work being reduced to the first letter and a series of dashes.
  • Breather Episode: "Amazing" a relatively laid-back love song situated right between the musically intense, lyrically political "Under the God" and the minor-key, thumping, and downright nihilistic "Working Class Hero".
  • Call-Back:
    • "Sacrifice Yourself" features the line "wham, bam, thank you Charlie," harking back to the famed outburst of "wham-bam thank you ma'am" from "Suffragette City".
    • "Baby Can Dance" features the phrase "I'm a shadow man," apparently referring to the Ziggy Stardust outtake "Shadow Man".
  • Cover Version: "Working Class Hero", originally written and performed by former Beatle John Lennon.
  • Darker and Edgier: Both lyrically and musically, this album is much dourer in tone than Never Let Me Down (which already touched upon some pretty dark subjects).
  • Drugs Are Bad: The general message of "Crack City", partly rooted in Bowie's own past as a cocaine addict throughout the first half of the 1970's.
  • Epic Rocking: "Heaven's in Here" clocks in at 6:01.
  • Face on the Cover: All four band members appear on the cover, arranged differently depending on the format of release. From left to right, the CD cover features David Bowie, Tony Sales, Hunt Sales, and Reeves Gabrels; the LP and digital covers feature Hunt Sales, Reeves Gabrels, David Bowie, and Tony Sales; the cassette cover features Tony Sales, Hunt Sales, Reeves Gabrels, and David Bowie. All four variations of the cover image were photographed by Masayoshi Sukita, who previously shot the cover photos for Iggy Pop's The Idiot and Bowie's own "Heroes".
  • I Am the Band: Defied; along with Tin Machine II, this album was produced with the band operating as a democratic unit, rather than the usual routine of letting Bowie take charge of everything.
  • Longest Song Goes Last: Inverted; the 6:01 "Heaven's in Here" opens the album rather than closing it.
  • Miniscule Rocking: "Bus Stop" clocks in at just 1:41; at the time, it beat out "Breaking Glass" from 12 years prior for the position of Bowie's shortest song (later being beat out by both Nathan Alder segues in 1. Outside, with the second of the two now being Bowie's actual shortest track, at just 28 seconds).
  • New Sound Album: Hard rock cum proto-grunge, a deliberate contrast to the pop-rock of Let's Dance, Tonight, and Never Let Me Down; Bowie himself considered it a continuation of the style developed on Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps). Much of the album's sound seems to be inspired by The Pixies, a band Bowie admired and considered one of the most compelling of the 1980's. Tin Machine would later cover the Pixies' "Debaser" in live performances, and Bowie himself would perform a solo cover of "Cactus" on his 2002 album Heathen.
  • Performance Video: The 13-minute promotional video is this; said video would later be cannibalized for the album singles' music videos.
  • Precision F-Strike: Bowie makes a number of these throughout the album, a direct contrast to the (mostly) clean lyrics of his prior output.
  • Protest Song: "Under the God" is an open railing against social and institutional racism, white supremacy, and government enabling of right-wing extremism.
  • Rearrange the Song: "I Can't Read" would later be re-recorded as a solo Bowie song for the 1997 film The Ice Storm, performed as a more downtempo dirge.
  • Ruder and Cruder: The album sees Bowie's lyricism far more littered with profanity compared to anything he had put out before or since; the presence of this across the record contributed heavily to criticisms that the album was too juvenile for the average Bowie fan.
  • Self-Titled Album: The third in Bowie's career, after his 1967 debut album and the follow-up which eventually became known as Space Oddity. In this case though, it's not titled after Bowie himself, but rather Tin Machine as a whole.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: The cover photo has the band members wearing matching suits.
  • Shout-Out: "Sacrifice Yourself" mentions being "married to a Klingon."
  • Spiritual Successor: Bowie himself considered this album one to Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), being a similar blend of hard rock and art rock with lyrical themes of sociopolitical protest. Additionally, while Scary Monsters is typically classified as a Post-Punk record, Tin Machine falls in-line with post-punk's daughter genre, Alternative Rock.
  • Take That!:
    • "Under the God" is very openly one towards neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and right-wingers, a sharp contrast to Bowie's apolitical reputation.
    • "Bus Stop" is an open critique of religious zealotry.
    • "Video Crimes" takes jabs at the then-growing sensationalism of news media.
  • Titled After the Song: The band named themselves after the song "Tin Machine," as they felt it was a good fit for their rawer, harder sound.
  • Title Track: "Tin Machine" is one not only for the album, but also the band; the band in fact named themselves after the song.
  • Updated Re-release: The 1995 CD reissue by Virgin Records adds in a "live country version" of "Bus Stop" as a bonus track.
  • The Vietnam War: Alluded to in "Sacrifice Yourself".
  • White Void Room: The band is photographed in one on the album cover.
  • Working-Class Hero: Ironically, the Trope Namer, the song "Working Class Hero" (originally by John Lennon), is a subversion in which the working class are duped into feeling like heroes by those with power:
    Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV
    And you think you're so clever and classless and free
    But you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see


How well does it match the trope?

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