All-Time Albums: #44


DAVID BOWIE Black Tie, White Noise

1 The Wedding 5:04
2 You’ve Been Around 4:45
3 I Feel Free 4:52
4 Black Tie White Noise 4:30 (UK single, #36)
Jump They Say 4:22 (UK single, #9)
Nite Flights 4:30
7 Pallas Athena 4:40
Miracle Goodnight 4:14 (UK single,#40)
9 Don’t Let Me Down & Down 4:55
10 Looking For Lester 5:36
11 I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday 4:14
12 The Wedding Song 4:29

And what would a list of the 100 greatest albums of all-time be without at least one Bowie inclusion? A pretty stupid one, obviously. So, with the whole of Dame David’s vast and varied career to choose from, I pick….his 1993 comeback (after a 6 year gap between genuine solo albums). Not Low, not “Heroes”, not Ziggy Stardust, not…you get the point.

Still, it was very nearly Never Let Me Down. I am not joking.

Anyway, Black Tie White Noise (the title was inspired by the night of the LA Riots in the summer of ’92, when Bowie was at some posh do and the juxtaposition struck a chord) reunited him with Nile Rodgers, a full decade on from Let’s Dance. Those intervening years saw fluctuating fortunes and critical acclaim to say the least (shush, nobody mention Tin Machine), and the first fruits of the reunion – a single for the soundtrack of flop animation/live-action movie Real Cool World – peaked at #53 in the UK. Hmmm.

It didn’t augur especially well, but the album proved a small triumph. A first solo chart-topper (barring compilations) since 1984, and probably his best reviews since Scary Monsters in 1980.

Considering it’s now my favourite Bowie album, there are strangely precious few top-drawer Bowie songs on Black Tie White Noise. In fact there are three instrumentals and at least three more cover versions among the dozen tracks. The impressive thing about it is the sound; a simply incredible sharp sheen to everything in the mix. It’ll make a half decent stereo set-up sound a million dollars. 1993 was just before the dreaded Loudness Wars kicked off, dragging everyone down into a hellish cycle of compression and distortion. A Bowie record has never sounded so fresh, so vibrant.

So yeah, in some ways it’s a victory for style over substance, something clearly audible as early as track 2 and the melody-lite You’ve Been Around. It wows with attitude and state-of-the-art trickery. He means business alright. A cover of the old Cream chestnut I Feel Free is given a similar, pared-down treatment and just about carries it off; his take on Scott Walker’s Nite Flights is much more convincing, and probably the highlight of the album. Top 10 single Jump They Say is another jittery winner, threatening to break out into a truly tuneful anthem at any moment.

Miracle Goodnight pirouettes on a cute motif for all of its catchy 4 minutes, and deserved to be a bigger success on the Top 40, but was probably just the wrong side of off-the-wall. Likewise, the title cut is a rum old slice of clunky (modern) R&B with equally clunky lyrics about racial harmony. Ebony & Ivory for the Teddy Riley generation. And yet….it has a definite charm, thanks partly to Al B Sure’s presence and despite the bizarre pronunciation of “noise”.

Which leaves the much-vaunted Morrissey cover that’s actually the weakest link of the entire project. Well-intentioned, perhaps, and useful to gain an extra bit of kudos and coverage from the press, but it feels like it’s from a completely different record. Oh well.

Bowie got married the year before Black Tie’s release, and bookending the album is his tribute to Iman – the Wedding Song. An instrumental version kicks off proceedings, before a vocal interpretation closes the LP (on CD there were a couple of unnecessary extra mixes) on a melodious and romantic note.

1993 was a busy year for the Dame, with another studio set (The Buddha Of Suburbia soundtrack) released six months later, plus a cash-in collection from EMI that saw a CD debut for many of his pre-1987 hit singles. The last time he had worked with Nile Rodgers, his career faltered as he rushed the follow-up and almost ended up in a creative cul-de-sac. This time, things would be different.

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