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2023 Albums Thing 072 - David Bowie “Black Tie White Noise”

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It’s 1993. David Bowie’s last album as “David Bowie” had been 1987’s “Never Let Me Down”, mercifully bringing to an end his self proclaimed “Phil Collins years”. But then in some kind of musical cleansing process he formed the execrable Tin Machine and made two albums with them (plus the horribly titled live album “Oy Vey Baby”), records I’ve spent the ensuing years trying to erase from my memory. So to my ears we hadn’t had the pleasure of a great David Bowie album for 13 years (“Scary Monsters”, remember that ?).

That’s not to say that “Black Tie White Noise” is one of the great David Bowie albums but my word, it stands head and shoulders above anything from the previous 13 years. It would seem Bowie thought so too

I personally think my work in the ’90s has been the best that I could possibly do...From Black Tie…, I think I’ve not put out a shoddy piece of work.

Nile Rodgers was back on production duties, not sure why as Rodgers has said he didn’t enjoy making the album because Bowie wouldn’t let him make “Let’s Dance II”. Reeves Gabrels survived the Tin Machine debacle (and, unbelievably to me, stuck around for a few more years), we encounter Sterling Campbell on drums for the first time who would become a fixture in Bowie’s bands up until his withdrawal from live performance, Jazz trumpeter Lester Bowie plays trumpet (duh!) and gets a tune named after him AND (drum roll please) we have the return of Bowie’s first great sidekick for, on the cover of Cream’s “I Feel Free”, Mick Ronson plays guitar. It’s another of Bowie’s questionable cover versions, a faux funky workout with a half-arsed vocal, but purely for the joy of Ziggy and his guitar god re-uniting on a song by one of Ronno’s favourites we’ll let any moaning pass us by.

There are 4 covers in total in “Black Tie White Noise”, the aforementioned Cream song a try at Morrissey’s (<spit>) “I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday” (originally produced by Mick Ronson so I guess that’s the reason), “Don’t Let Me Down & Down” (originally an Arabic language song by Iman’s friend Tarha from Mauritius) and finally a great version of Scott Walker’s “Nite Flights”. Bowie always professed to being a fan of Scott’s and this song is from the Walker Brothers 1978 reformation album of the same name. Scott was moving toward making more challenging music than the lush orchestral pop he’d been known for in the 60’s and Bowie handles “Nite Flights” perfectly.

The issue of this album I have is the 2022 remaster which does include a couple of songs that weren’t on the original vinyl issue (it lost “The Wedding” and “Looking For Lester” although both were on the original CD release). So if you’re lucky enough to own that original vinyl issue and you’re thinking “That song isn’t on “Black Tie White Noise” what’s he on about ?” then that’s why. The newly married Bowie chose to open and close the album with the same piece of music, starting with the instrumental “The Wedding” and ending on the vocal version “The Wedding Song” (in fact the working title of the album was “The Wedding Album”) an extension of the music he wrote for his and Iman’s wedding. It’s a slow groove based around a window rattling baseline and Bowie’s asthmatic saxophone.

“You've Been Around” was the opening track on the original vinyl version of the album. It’s driven by an intense drum performance which almost foreshadows the style of “Earthling” which will come much later. The vocal is also different in style, Bowie reaching for the voice that he would fully find on “1. Outside” and his final 2 albums (it will also revisit us later on “Nite Flights”). I like this song, a lot.

The title track was inspired by the LA riots, Bowie and his new wife Iman were in LA looking for somewhere to live, needless to say they didn’t stay. The albums lead single “Jump They Say” gave Bowie his first hit single since “Absolute Beginners”in 1986. The song is another about his brother Terry and wouldn’t have felt too out of place on “Scary Monsters”. 

Three instrumentals (almost, “Pallas Athena” has some sampled voices in it), four cover versions and five original new “songs”, there’s much to like on “Black Tie White Noise” and much that isn’t so great, covering Morrissey for one and the, in places, 80’s sound to the backing tracks. You can hear Bowie searching for a new voice here which he would develop over the next few years. It’s no classic but compared to the “Phil Collins years” and Tin Machine it’s a masterpiece !

You’ve Been Around - https://youtu.be/_5VbN1ohDhc

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