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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 through EMI USA, is the eponymous debut studio album by British-American Alternative Rock supergroup Tin Machine, formed the year prior to help frontman David Bowie reinvigorate his artistic passion. 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 '80s output. Bassist Tony Sales described it as a deliberate reaction to the prevalence of "disco and dance music and drum machines" on the radio, while 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 prior collaborators Tony and Hunt Sales (who'd previously performed alongside Bowie on Iggy Pop's supporting tour for The Idiot) 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 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. 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:

  • 15 Minutes of Fame: Referenced in "I Can't Read", which nods back to the original Andy Warhol quote with the line "Andy, where's my fifteen minutes?"
  • 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."
  • all lowercase letters: The album and liner notes almost exclusively feature this, with only the copyright information and catalog number being given proper capitalization.
  • Alternate Album Cover: The arrangement of the band members on the cover photo differs between each format. 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.
  • 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. The band chose to record the song after Lennon's son Sean visited them while they were recording in the Bahamas.
  • 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 1970s.
  • 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. 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".
  • Fake-Out Fade-Out: Done about 30 or so seconds before the end of "Crack City", which instead concludes on an actual final note.
  • 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 First: The 6:01 "Heaven's in Here" opens the album; no other track surpasses five minutes.
  • 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).
  • Mythology Gag: The quotation of Allen Ginsberg's "Howl (1955)" in "Prisoner of Love" subtly nods back to Iggy Pop's "Little Miss Emperor", whose parent album Bowie co-wrote and co-produced; the Bowie and Pop songs both quote the opening line of Ginsberg's poem.
  • 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 was influenced by not only older acts such as Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, but also newer names like Sonic Youth and the Pixies, all of whom Bowie was listening to at the time. Bowie particularly admired the Pixies, calling them the most compelling act of the '80s; as such, their material carries the biggest influence on the album. 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 album was promoted with a 13-minute video depicting the band performing at the Ritz in New York City, which was 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.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: "Crack City" was inspired by the prominent drug culture that surrounded the band while recording in Nassau, additionally drawing from Bowie's own history with cocaine addiction.
  • 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:
  • 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 Crime" 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.
  • 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