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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 the 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 Pixiesesque 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 album was released to rave critical reviews, but sold nowhere near as much as Bowie's prior albums with EMI and, like Tin Machine themselves, later became the subject of scorn among both fans and critics. 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 the 1999 remasters of his albums between Space Oddity and this one. Despite the constant drubbing throughout the 90's and 2000's, 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 Alternative Rock and especially grunge 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.


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. 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.



  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" (4:38)
  9. "Bus Stop" (1:41)
  10. "Pretty Thing" (4:39)
  11. "Video Crime" (3:52)
  12. "Run" (3:20)note 
  13. "Sacrifice Yourself" (2:08)note 
  14. "Baby Can Dance" (4:57)

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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: The cover photo has the band members wearing matching suits.
  • Shout-Out: "Sacrifice Yourself" mentions being "married to a Klingon."
  • 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.
  • Title Track: "Tin Machine" is one not only for the album, but also the band; the band in fact named themselves after the song, as it was a good fit for their rawer, harder sound.
  • 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


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