Stateside

Stateside.
Stateside (Oy Vey Baby, 1991).

The run of travel songs on Tin Machine II ends—how else?—with a bored, horny drummer stuck in Sydney, wanting to get back home. Dreadful as it is, Hunt Sales’ “Stateside” doesn’t quite seem to merit the collective hatred it’s inspired. Its sins are venial: crassness, dullness, far overstaying its welcome. Oh, and the way Hunt whine-sings “she wanted my lovin’…MY LOVINN'” in the first verse makes you want to burn down his house.

It helps that Bowie undermines “Stateside”‘s gassy blooze rock with some gonzo contributions (he’s credited as co-writer of both words and music). There’s his squib of a saxophone solo, Bowie hardly bothering to come up with a melody, his tone so dwarfish that it sounds as though he’s tootling on a plastic toy. It seems a mockery of the cliche wailing sax middle-eights of Eighties power ballads and bar-belters. Better still is the Bowie-penned bridge (repeated towards the close), which ridicules Hunt’s homeward longings, offering a Trash Americana landscape: inflatable Marilyn Monroe dolls and Kennedy convertibles (still blood-stained?), with lines pilfered from Gershwin/Heyward’s “Summertime,” “Home on the Range,” and, naturally, the band America itself.

“Stateside” is also of meager interest for being one of the few “straight-up” unironic R&B tracks that Bowie ever recorded (even here, he still spoofs it). Ever since “Liza Jane” Bowie had tried to find (or piece together) some dialect of R&B that he could converse in. He had loved the music, had spent his youth delving into it, but found he couldn’t channel it directly—he had to approach at an angle. Ziggy Stardust is in part James Brown as Pierrot. And Bowie’s two main offensives were the harrowed soul and funk of Young Americans and Station to Station, and the brighter Let’s Dance, which, as Bowie said in 1991, was the “rediscovery of white-English-ex-art-school-student-meets-black-American funk, a refocus of Young Americans.” These records would have been inconceivable without the agency of Luther Vandross, Carlos Alomar, Dennis Davis, George Murray, Omar Hakim and Nile Rodgers. In a way, Bowie considered them the control, his own relentlessly ironic persona the experiment: the albums were the transcripts of their collisions.

So “Stateside” offered a cheap alternative, for once. The Saleses had cut their teeth playing R&B, and “Stateside” is meat-and-potatoes white “trad” R&B, of the sort that you can hear in some biker bar in South Carolina on any given evening. It drags along, satisfied with its loping pace, Tony Sales occasionally walking his bass. Reeves Gabrels’ two lengthy, awful solos are the variable—are they in quotation marks, intentionally meant be the sort of garish cliche-strewn lead lines that you’d hear from Blues Hammer, or is Gabrels just saying, “fuck it, it’s Hunt’s song,” and plowing away without taste or inspiration? Either interpretation works.

Pure album filler, “Stateside” passes without too much pain. Live, it was toxic. Extended beyond its already-elephantine length, inflicted upon an unwilling audience by its author, who had the tenacity and taste of a drunken wedding toastmaster, “Stateside” became hateful. (Bowie often checked out during performances—you’ll see in the clip above that he takes a cigarette break during one of Gabrels’ solos). I wouldn’t be surprised if one reason Bowie broke up Tin Machine was his desire to never play the thing again.

Recorded ca. September-October 1989, Studios 301, Sydney, w/ poss. overdubs 1990-March 1991. Performed mercilessly throughout the “It’s My Life” tour.

Top: Erik Sinclair, “Paris, 1991.”

18 Responses to Stateside

  1. Brendan O'Lear says:

    “Its sins are venial: crassness, dullness, far overstaying its welcome.” Surely, in terms of what Bowie represented (I think we use the past tense now) those are mortal sins.

    Interested to see if anyone comes on to defend this.

  2. Momus says:

    ‘Be the first to like this.”

  3. david says:

    “Stateside” doesn’t quite seem to merit the collective hatred it’s inspired”
    Yes it does, it really, really does.

  4. “Oh, and the way Hunt whine-sings ‘she wanted my lovin’…MY LOVINN’’ in the first verse makes you want to burn down his house.”

    Holy shit that’s funny. And true!

  5. SoooTrypticon says:

    I love your write ups so much, and while I’m thankful you’re checking all the Tin Machine boxes, (I really know nothing about their recording)… I simply can not wait for you to get on to Black Tie White Noise.

    Good luck, and thank you again for doing this.

    • col1234 says:

      we’re almost out of the woods. and there’s an interlude of sorts coming soon before we hit the last TM songs.

      • SoooTrypticon says:

        Indeed? How mysterious and wonderful (:

        Regardless of my feelings on TM, I will gladly snap this up as a book when you’ve finished.

  6. PH says:

    Yes, I hate the blues-y áuthentic’ Hunt vocal, but as you say , Bowie’s interjection’s about Marilyn inflatables, etc at least make the song bearable. Though I do remember at the time of its’ release a lot of PC tut-tutting over the line “where the suffering comes easy on a blonde with no brains”. Much, much worse in my opinion is the execrable “Sorry’, which doesn’t even have any Bowie contributions to salvage it.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Though not directly related to ‘Stateside’ it’s interesting to read the bit about the ‘ex-art-school student’. He must have read about himself being an art-school student so many times that he actually believes he was one.

  8. Diamond Duke says:

    Well…all things considered, I think you’ve been rather fair and balanced in your treatment of Stateside! ;) I, for one, don’t think it quite deserves the level of hostility which has been directed at over the years, but I don’t think anyone’s going to make any sort of claim for this as any sort of lost, misunderstood masterpiece either. Not by a long shot! :D

    You’re right, Bowie’s lyrical injections provide a certain amusement factor which would makes the song relatively tolerable. And in a weird way, its “Marilyn inflatables” and “Kennedy convertibles” provide a weird sort of missing link between…oh, let’s say, Roxy Music’s In Every Dream Home A Heartache and Bowie’s later I’m Afraid Of Americans. (Like, yeeeeeeeaaaaahhh, that’s the ticket!) And Gabrels’ sub-Hendrix shredding also adds a fine layer of delicious, nutrition-free frosting to a cake which would otherwise be pretty bland…

    (Just as an aside: When Adrian Belew first got the call from Bowie to play on the Sound + Vision tour, he was actually hanging out poolside with the members of America at the time! I don’t actually know if Bowie made his particular contribution to this song before or after talking with Belew, but if it was after, I think maybe that particular detail stuck in Bowie’s mind or something…)

  9. Jeremy says:

    Well, you will not get me defending this track. Just terrible!

  10. Mike says:

    I’ve never heard this one before, but I was curious to hear the “Bowie-penned bridge” so I clicked on the sample — but I just couldn’t make it that far!

    Oh Mother of God…

  11. Aloninseine. says:

    I like it.

  12. Maj says:

    Dull is the word but it doesn’t make me wanna shoot my brains out. It’s not *that* bad.

  13. steve collins says:

    oh gosh that’s grim. and it’s tagged as adult content on youtube, to protect the impressionable. the version with hunt’s underwear is even worse. i had to go watch dead or alive to wash it out of my mind.

  14. tin man says:

    i’m gonna drive soon my own pro-Hunt Sales blog. The way people say they hate everything he did on planet Bowie… i just can’t believe it! so please you all…, don’t take it so seriously… the Sales brothers are for sure great musicians!, they do the show! Hunt & Tony are cool! i saw them in Paris & i must admit my serotonin loved it! my brain loved it & my whole body loved it too! stop thinking about art! (you have to know that “Dada” killed art in 1924), think dada a little bit more… this is just really really good entertainment!!!! The Sales come from R’n’B…, they’re kind of Sam & Dave, i got their “Hired Guns” album recorded circa 79… it’s such a good trip (good for health) from… stateside!

  15. tin man says:

    Who’s Erik Sinclair?
    Is there any link between this swanky guy & Hunt Sales the singer/ drummer? Hunt is not a fake, not a “poseur” or perhaps only “for the fun”… he’s more Jerry Lewis or Soupy’s son than Erik Sinclair or even Bob Sinclar…
    have a nice day from France !

  16. Not a defense of the song, per se, but I think the detached, ironic Bowie bridge redeems it…a little. Someone once told me the “kenedy convertible” referred to in the song was a type of sofa bed, but I can only find one reference to that on the internet.

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