Sunday, January 20, 2013

David Bowie: "Tin Machine II"

It's very difficult to pick a "most underrated" David Bowie album because most of them are generally lauded by critics.   You might say "Lodger" because it doesn't have the standing of "Scary Monsters" or "Low" - but it is still very well regarded.  "Heathen" might quality.  It did receive mostly positive reviews at the time of its release, but perhaps in retrospect it's a stronger and even more important album than was apparent at the time.  My esteem for it has only grown in the decade-plus since it's release.

But really if you think about an album that is still widely dismissed that deserves a far better fate, it's "Tin Machine II".   Fans and critics were somewhat bemused by Bowie's abandonment of the bloated stadium-rock of the "Never Let Me Down" period for a stripped-down, no frills "i'm one of the band" rock approach on the first Tin Machine album.   Fans gave it a chance and there was a decent promotional push, but none of the material was particularly commercial.  It wasn't a bad album, and it was nice to see a fresh direction from Bowie, but it wasn't a knockout.

Given the relative failure of "Tin Machine", it's perhaps surprising a sequel ever saw the light of day.  "Tin Machine II" is far better.  Partly due to record company issues, the album really never had a chance.   It was scoffed at and ignored by the press, and folks - many of whom probably never really bothered to listen to it - named it a disaster.  It was largely ignored by the public and is current out of print and unavailable for purchase.

A true shame.  Minus the 2 tracks sung by Hunt Sales, "Stateside" and "Sorry", this is a classic Bowie album.  If it had been released under the name David Bowie and given another title, maybe it would have fared better.  It opens with a killer trio of originals, all of which were singles:  "Baby Universal", "One Shot" and the wonderfully off-kilter "You Belong in Rock n' Roll".   Then a white hot cover of Roxy Music's "If There is Something".  The rest of the album is mostly very strong as well, with Reeves Gabrels' guitar work interesting throughout.  Some should-be Bowie classics here - like why isn't "Shopping for Girls" regarded alongside his best work?   It's tremendous.

Give it another listen with a fresh ear.  It stands up remarkably well 22 years later.  Hopefully Bowie's return to the music scene will lead to a fresh look at his back catalog, and this criminally underrated gem will get another chance.  

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