Monday, January 24, 2011

Black Tie White Noise (1993)


1. The Wedding: The albums opens with stately wedding bells, this track was written for his wife and their recent wedding. A nice instrumental, it’s essentially Bowie’s treated sax over housey piano and drums with some nice Eastern qualities. Bowie bookends this album with another version of the same track, but luckily that’s where the wedding concept starts and ends. 5.0

2. You’ve Been Around: Bowie often professes to have been deeply influenced by the icon of obscurity Scott Walker (The Walker Brothers), and likewise Walker influenced by Bowie and Eno’s work of the late 70s. This track was one left over from Tin Machine II and Bowie generates quite the Scott Walker self-harmonizing vocal effect almost predating Walker’s Tilt. Co-writer Reeves Gabrels’ guests on this track only and his guitar is mixed way down creating a nice warm sound. Jazz legend Lester Bowie (dotted all over this album) plays some nice trumpet too. Decent track. 7.0

3. I Feel Free: Cream cover with the late great Mick Ronson returning after many years, offering a nice guitar solo. This is a dance version of a song goes as far back as the Ziggy Stardust concerts and finally gets the (albeit OTT) studio treatment. Somewhat reminiscent of something off Let’s Dance, it’s fun in a sterile kind of way, and essentially forgettable. Bowie’s ultra-deep baritone plunges down to the earth’s core at one stage. 4.0

4. Black Tie White Noise: Post-LA Riots ebony and ivory duet with Al B Sure! or nonsensical ramblings of a middle aged man, either way it took them weeks to get this one right (longer than it took to record the entire Let’s Dance album), and not sure if it was entirely worth it. I still don’t know who Al B Sure! is! 4.5

5. Jump They Say: A looped horn section competes with Bowie’s strange sax sound (heard all over this album) on this energetic and edgy track. Possibly addressing the painful subject of suicide, it’s a strong track and his most successful single and innovative video for some time. 6.5

6. Nite Flights: Faithful cover of a brilliant Scott Walker song from the dark 1978 album of the same name. Bowie does it justice with a beautifully restrained performance and adds spacey drones and electronic treatments to excellent effect. The best song on the album by a long shot. 8.0

7. Pallas Athena: Anonymous dance floor muzak. People who were dancing to it had no idea it was Bowie. Listening to this track I wonder if I care. 3.0

8. Miracle Goodnight: Cute and cheery love song with some nice emotional lyrics from new husband and clearly besotted Mr Bowie. You can’t blame him for that. A wedding present for his wife? Lovely. Unfortunately the cornball ascending synth riff wears out it’s welcome as does the drum machine as usual. 4.5

9. Don’t Let Me Down and Down: Another more obscure cover this time, his voice is strong on this one and his performance strangely enjoyable, but the track grates with it’s cod-grandiose tempo and is way too maudlin. A setback for side two. 4.0

10. Looking for Lester: Lester Bowie plays a nice trumpet on this instrumental and goes head to head with Bowie’s own dissonant sax and Mike Garson’s piano tinkling. Bops along ok if you like that kind of thing. 5.0

11. I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday: Bowie covering Morrissey covering Bowie. A perplexing choice doing this one, particularly with a gospel feel. A bit out of place on the album and painfully over-schmaltzy. 3.0

12. The Wedding Song: Bowie reprises the opener, this time with a vocal and somewhat trite lyrics “I believe in magic..”. 4.0


VERDICT: Black Tie White Noise marks the beginning of Bowie’s modern era and presents us with his latest persona that of a relevant solo working artist. A transitional album between the disappointing Tin Machine albums and the semi-firm creative footing of The Buddha of Suburbia, it’s also a dance album sitting insignificantly in the Bowie cannon, once again relying on Let’s Dance mastermind Nile Rogers as producer although Bowie maintained his artistic vision and turned down a lot of his suggestions to make this a more chart-friendly album ie: Let’s Dance II (maybe he shouldn’t have been involved at all?). Unfortunately they only succeeded in making an album dominated by upright ultra-funk bass, mediocre dance-club pop crossed with large amounts of smooth jazz stylings, and limiting his creative potential by working within strict mechanical drum patterns, jarring hiphop samples and programmed loops on nearly every track to reach the completely arbitrary four minute length. The album does herald the welcome return of Mike Garson and Mick Ronson to the fold, and while it was welcomed with open arms upon it’s release (what wouldn’t after Tin Machine?), it flopped in the States, bankrupted it’s record label (Savage), was then unavailable for many years, and has not aged well in sound or packaging (the album cover is Bowie’s career worst). It’s ultra-slick and humourless, and forever cemented as a piece of indistinct 90s dance pop. I can’t rate this one higher than Tonight but it’s definitely better than Tin Machine II. It’s Bowie’s least interesting album (even Tonight had it’s quirky charms), it’s stylistically narrow and there was no tour, only an hour long extremely dull video package of interviews, (mimed) performances and studio footage that’s best left alone.

NEXT: “Sometimes I fear that the whole world is queer”

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