Heaven’s In Here

Heaven’s In Here.
Heaven’s In Here (video).
Heaven’s In Here (fragment, rehearsal, 1989).
Heaven’s In Here (International Rock Awards, 1989).
Heaven’s In Here (Oy Vey Baby, 1991).
Heaven’s In Here (live, 1991).

I knew David wanted to do a different kind of music. [But] I always thought if I gave it back to him, it would end up going back to the Spiders from Mars. That’s exactly what happened.

Carlos Alomar.

…even Baudelaire’s Voyagers, who set out to look for the unheard-of and were ready to face shipwreck in the attempt, found in the unknown, and in spite of every unforeseen disaster, precisely the same tedium they had left at home. To be on the move, however, is better than nothing…The air creeps into one’s clothes. The ego dilates and contracts like a Portuguese man-of-war. This gentle loosening of the bonds, which replaces the uniform with a pair of pyjamas, is more like an hour’s break in the school timetable than the promise of the great demobilization.

Claudio Magris, Danube.

Bowie flew to Los Angeles in the spring of 1988 to try out a prospective band of studio guns picked by Bon Jovi’s producer, Bruce Fairbairn. These included two members of Bryan Adams’ band, guitarist Keith Scott and drummer Mickey Curry, the bassist Rene Worst and the keyboardist John Webster. Bowie and the group cut a few demos—an early version of “Pretty Pink Rose,” a song Bowie later reworked and gave to Adrian Belew; “Lucille Can’t Dance,” the ur-“Lucy Can’t Dance,” which Bowie would throw away as a bonus track on Black Tie White Noise; and a cover of Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” which Mick Ronson would later salvage.* Bowie found the sessions, intended to map out his next EMI album, dull and unrewarding. A few months after he’d burned the Glass Spider, he was falling into the same trap again: a fresh round of recording with top professionals, another glum search for a single, another turn on the treadmill.

So he returned to Switzerland, unearthed Reeves Gabrels. Once Gabrels and Bowie began working on songs in late summer 1988 (they soon discarded the West musical idea in favor of original compositions), Bowie found a producer, Tim Palmer, who had made a name recording the Cult and the Mission. As for the rhythm section, some provisional names included players with art-rock bona fides: Terry Bozzio, a Mothers of Invention veteran who had drummed for the Missing Persons, and an old Brian Eno hand, the bassist Percy Jones. After some consideration, Bowie balked again. He could do a new album of “edgy” rock, a Scary Monsters 2, and vie to outplay Peter Gabriel at the art-pop game, but wasn’t that just another version of the trap?

Bowie went back to his records, listening to Low and “Heroes” for the first time in years. What struck him was their emotional immediacy, their sense of having no mediation between the songs and the listener, of little forethought to the music: the records sounded as though they had been created and recorded in one fluid motion.

Of course that wasn’t true. He’d had top professional musicians working for him then, but they were men of an R&B/funk/jazz background who Bowie challenged by throwing odd, harmonically-vague, fragmented and at times highly personal pieces at them. They responded by translating the pieces into their language and playing them back for him. It was a conversation: neither party had known how it would end. But now Bowie felt that any musician that he chose, when offered an “envelope-pushing” Bowie song, would think, “oh, like “Heroes”” and play in that style. His avant-garde material had become a genre.

The answer came from Iggy Pop in absentia. Bowie listened to Lust for Life and had an inspiration: Hunt and Tony Sales, the Katzenjammer Kids of rhythm sections, whose antics had proved even too much for Iggy at the time (Pop had dismissed them during a 1977 tour, saying “you guys are like heroin.”) The Sales’ had been around the record industry, he knew their brutalist style well enough, but they weren’t “cheque-book musicians,” as Bowie later sniffed about the type of pros Bruce Fairbairn had offered him. Bowie also knew they wouldn’t treat him with any reverence. Subconsciously or no, Bowie was surrounding himself with people—Gabrels, Palmer and the Sales’—who all thought that his Eighties records and tours had been weak.

Tin Machine began in part as Bowie attempt to make an Iggy Pop album without Iggy: Pop is the ghost in the well. What else is the album’s lead-off track, “Heaven’s In Here,” than a six-minute Pop homage, with Bowie singing verses in a Pop-like croon (or summoning Pop’s own influence, Jim Morrison)? He even called back to their old collaboration “Tumble and Twirl” in the last verse.

Bowie had met Tony Sales again in Los Angeles, at a party for the end of the Glass Spider tour. Sales recalled Bowie sitting around looking bored, but he perked up once he saw Tony (the last time they’d met was the US Festival). He started bubbling about the new guitarist he’d found, and soon enough he recruited Tony and his brother into coming out to Switzerland.

Gabrels and Bowie had been working at a clip for about a week at Mountain Studios. They had written “Bus Stop,” the music for “Baby Universal,” and most of “Amazing,” “Baby Can Dance” and “I Can’t Read.” Then the Sales brothers arrived. They were like two sides of a vicious charismatic personality—Hunt, who walked into the studio wearing a “Fuck You I’m From Texas” T-shirt and had a knife tucked into his belt, was a walking piece of chaos, while Tony, who had nearly died in a car accident some years before, was cold order. He had become nearly straight-edge, even once lecturing Bowie about the perils of alcohol when he saw Bowie drinking a glass of wine.

The Sales’ made it clear they weren’t going to be sidemen. They were going to sing, they were going to write songs, and they were going to veto whatever they didn’t like. They began by hazing Gabrels mercilessly, shooting down his solo ideas, until he learned to just ignore them. In an act of blunt symbolism, Hunt set up his massive drum kit on a 20-foot-high riser (he had to use a ladder to reach it) in the studio. He played so loudly, had such prominence in the room, that the guitarists Gabrels and Kevin Armstrong could barely hear themselves play. The Tin Machine mix wound up being drum-conquered.

The Sales’ also pushed for a punishing first-take philosophy, which Bowie found enticing. No overdubs unless necessary for guitar solos, no synths (the old Queen boast), and most of all, no lyric rewrites. The band would go to lunch and return to find that Bowie had written out a complete provisional lyric for whatever song they were working on. But that was as far as he was allowed to go: he was forced to keep to his first instincts. Sometimes this worked out, sometimes it didn’t (see “Crack City”).

Given these strictures, Bowie and the band stuck to music “that didn’t have too much orchestration about it,” as Bowie said in a 1989 interview. “If it got too chordy and arranged, it wouldn’t be anything what we wanted to do. The structure had to be as loose as possible so that we could improvise.” Rather than reworking songs, they just kept cutting more, with as many as 35 to 40 pieces coming out of the sessions. So most of Tin Machine is basic blues-centered rock, with the average song having no more than five chords: it lacked the harmonic ambiguity and structural games of Bowie’s older work. While the record often worked on a song level, with 14 tracks on the CD version, the album was a wearying listen. Few records are as exciting in miniature and as draining as a whole as Tin Machine.

The first track that the band completed, rehearsed and cut in a single day in Montreux, was the bluesy “Heaven’s In Here.”

It opens promisingly: a taste of studio ambiance, a hint of feedback, then a snarling riff (either Bowie or Kevin Armstrong, the ringer brought in to play the rhythm guitar parts that Bowie said he couldn’t do well enough) that’s overshadowed four bars later by the Sales’ bludgeoning entrance, while Gabrels plays a singing lead. Bowie’s first appearance is confident and poised, a sly, mid-register insinuation that’s escorted by Gabrels’ slide playing. Bowie often keeps to the third notes of the chord (so singing a G note (“dream,” “blade,” “stumble”) when the song’s in E), while the chorus finds him channeling Morrison (especially on “rock-et TO Mars“). He seems enlivened by the music (“I’m telling you loud but selling it small“): his lyric, an ode to sexual healing, is plain and artless by Bowie standards, thanks to the first-take rule.

Gabrels’ first solo is nice bit of peacocking offset by Hunt Sales’ blunt snare chastisements, and the “rave up” section after the second chorus, while a bit leaden, gives the track some punch. But after the last chorus, the track extends for another two minutes of soloing. And here we find a core problem with the Tin Machine material: the tortured interplay between Gabrels and Hunt Sales. It’s a pair of rivals trying to outplay each other, criticizing each other, failing to respond to each other’s cues, and sometimes actively working to undermine each other. Gabrels seems lost in his own squall-world while Hunt’s turnaround fills are often club-footed and seem like they’re trying to kill off the song every eight bars. As most of the tracks were cut live in the studio, they lack the nuances that overdubs could’ve provided while Hunt’s elephantine drums serve as a dictatorial presence in the mix.

So the first completed track from Bowie’s attempt at enforced community found him being sidelined in his own song, with one of his better vocals in years overrun by a fight between his shrieking guitarist and his madman drummer. The Tin Machine project began with Bowie under siege, which soon forced him to devise some sallies of his own.

On tour, the band would extend “Heaven” over ten minutes, making it a vehicle for mutual excess. The Oy Vey Baby version features a two-minute-plus Gabrels jackplug feedback solo, during which Hunt Sales seems about to nod off, while Bowie took over stretches by cobbling together bits of songs, everything from Sly Stone’s “You Caught Me Smilin'” to Roxy Music’s “In Every Dream Home A Heartache” to Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere.”

Recorded ca. August 1988, Mountain Studios, Montreux. Released May 1989 on Tin Machine, while an edited version (4:14) was issued as a US-only promo 12″/CD (EMI SPRO 4374). The live version released on the Oy Vey Baby album and video was recorded at NYC’s Academy on 29 November 1991, and the Machine also played “Heaven” for the BBC in 1991.

* I’ll get to these songs when it makes more thematic sense to do so: during the Sound + Vision era and the Black Tie/White Noise era, respectively.

Top to bottom: the various editions of Tin Machine: LP, CD, cassette. [Edit]: the fourth variation, which I neglected to find, was on the CD longbox (see comments).

33 Responses to Heaven’s In Here

  1. MC says:

    Great post – really good on the strengths and limitations of the Machine. Myself, I had the vinyl version which lopped off Sacrifice Yourself and Run – made for a much better listen.

    When I saw TM in 1991, during this song Bowie went into “I’m a king bee baby, buzzing ’round your hive,” as I think he does on the OY Vey Baby version – a real return home for the former frontman for the King Bees which I think must have been one of Bowie’s motivations for forming the band. Even the matching suit look suggests the beat groups of the British Invasion.

  2. col1234 says:

    forgot to link to this: another live version of “Heaven’s In Here” from Chicago, Dec. ’91, from a bootleg of the same title: http://bowiesongs.tumblr.com/post/21785050019/tin-machine-heavens-in-here-chicago-7

  3. David L says:

    Yes, spot-on analysis. They should have ended Heaven’s in Here two minutes earlier and cut right to “tin Machine” … that would have been an excellent 1-2 punch. There’s some decent material on this album but it really needs a lot of cutting down.

  4. Maj says:

    Quite a dull song. But the guitar (up until the solo at the end) and rhythm section ain’t half bad. I don’t hate it completely. πŸ™‚
    A dull song but not a completely bad record. Can’t imagine listening to an album of this (I did, once, many years ago. Barely survived.)…Tin Machine will be better digestible in song by song form. πŸ˜‰

  5. Pinstripe Hourglass says:

    Is it Hunt or Tony with the chest-length renaissance fair haircut? It looks like he wandered out of a Tolkien adaptation.

  6. diamond dog says:

    Great promising opening ruined by the squealing overlong solo , I quite like the drumming and this is perhaps the best vocal though some editing would have made it tighter. The strain shows toward the end on Bowie with it tumbling out of tune , which is brave to have live flaws but just sounds awful. The doors riff is all winks and knowing if this was a return to form it was going to be a long crawl.

  7. RLM says:

    I really like this one, although the stuff about Bowie not being “allowed” to revise his lyrics is frustrating – IMO it would be a much stronger album generally with a second draft of the words, there are some good images but the clunking couplets really drag the whole thing down (although some of these are cherishably bad – I’m quite partial to “a bunch of assholes with buttholes for their brains” for instance).

    People complain about the overuse of squalling guitar but as a suburban teenager in 1989 I found overuse of squalling guitar a pretty compelling artistic strategy. In my mind this LP sits in a continuum of “art shredding” that also includes PiL’s “Album” with Steve Vai, and the post-punk influenced pyrotechnics of Dave Navarro. At its best the TM LP also puts me in a mind of the first Guns’n’Roses LP – intelligently constructed & precision-executed dumbass rock.

    Totally agree with the poster who said the vinyl tracklisting is superior to the CD. A much better and leaner listening experience.

    • Diamond Duke says:

      Actually, Run and Sacrifice Yourself are two of my favorite tracks on the CD. I’ve never heard the vinyl version, but I just know that I’d really miss those two…

  8. atari 2600 says:

    just wanted you to see the link. saw it on metafilter blog today

    please moderate to not post either of these comments

  9. Sean says:

    Great write-up. I actually like Heaven’s in Here in terms of the melody and overall band performance, and Bowie’s vocal entry is cool. But as you’ve said, the endless atonal guitar wank is just much too much.

  10. Pierce says:

    This track encapsulates just about everything Tin Machine were about in it’s 6 gruelling minutes. What starts out as quite an interesting blues rocker disintegrates into a loud, pointless rock out with some embarrassingly awful lead guitar and horribly loud and obnoxious drums. For a career that was built on violently changing direction Tin Machine was no different and Bowie needed to get this out of his system, and an 80s pop rut.

  11. Chris, Thanks for a typically well-researched post. Your line, ‘Few records are as exciting in miniature and as draining as a whole as Tin Machine’ sums it up perceptively.

  12. Just a note on the artwork differences for the album, Bowie did complete the quartet variations with the cover of the CD long-box.

  13. Jeremy says:

    Loved this when it came out and I’m still partial to it now. Just listened to it in the car and didn’t mind it at all.

    No wonder the Sales brothers haven’t scored many jobs – what attitudes!

    Also no wonder the drums are so full on – never my favourite drummer but he served a purpose.

  14. MC says:

    Something I wanted to add: the account of the Sales brothers’ interaction with Bowie and Gabrels in the studio is priceless. When Bowie’s life is dramatized in mini-series form, this would make for great tv indeed. (Episode 6: The Tin Machine years!) But who would play the parts?

    Heaven’s In Here is a pretty strong opener for the album. I loved it when it came out. Now, it’s one of the songs that’s aged strangely. What seemed invigorating at the time now seems a little clunky, for all the reasons everyone has mentioned. I guess the way my feelings about Tin Machine have evolved is along these lines: they were a great and necessary stepping-stone for the music that followed, and still one of the boldest maneuvers ever undertaken by an artist in mid-career doldrums. I think a lot of people were really thrown by the whole group concept; personally, I like the idea of TM better than a lot of the music. Still, we haven’t got to the really great songs on TM 1 yet. Looking forward to the next few entries!

  15. fantailfan says:

    It’s hard for me to get over the fact the Sales brothers are no-talent assholes. Associating yourself with them was an act of desperation by a man living in a house of dusty mirrors. Sorry. No Tin Machine for me. See you again at hours.

  16. botley says:

    Has anyone heard the 4:11 edit version from the promo single? I’d be very interested to know what was removed and if it improves the song, just as the Never Let Me Down edit versions of songs seemed to benefit from a little pruning.

  17. Diamond Duke says:

    “Exciting in miniature” but “draining as a whole.” Yeah, that more or less sums up how I feel about the first Tin Machine album as well. And that’s why I actually prefer the band’s second album. True, that one’s arguably a more conventional hard-rock effort, but I think the songwriting’s much better overall.

    Heaven’s In Here, though, is one of the highlights of the first Tin Machine. I like its bluesy swagger, which indeed does recall Iggy and the spirit of Morrison. To some extent, it also recalls The Jean Genie. (In fact, in later live performances of the latter song in the late ’90s, they would use the riff from Heaven’s In Here as the intro!) True, the jamming does go on for quite a while toward the end, but that’s simply what sometimes happens when you’re taking the route of no-frills live recording. And while the closing duel between Reeves and Hunt may strike some as cacophonous, I really don’t mind it at all.

    The above comment made by RLM about the “art shredding” continuum, and the comparisons with Album-era PiL, Dave Navarro and GN’R, are very insightful. To my mind, the Tin Machine period also occupies a stylistic area which involves the marriage of hard-rock/metal aggression with a more – for lack of a better word – “alternative” (or simply post-punk) sensibility. Not only does much of Iggy’s work occupy this territory, but I’m also thinking of Henry Rollins’ bands, as well as much of the ’90s solo work of former MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer (three really cool records on Epitaph Records).

    But this marriage between “heavy rock” and “alternative” styles is a rather tricky balancing act to pull off without seriously alienating fans of either style. Hard rock/metal fans tend to be a little more conservative and prefer their rock served more or less straight-up with little to no pretension, while alternative fans may prefer their music on the more “artsy” side and are often put off by excessive testosterone. Witness the horrendous reaction to Lulu, the recent collaboration between Lou Reed and Metallica. I mean, that record is more or less the sort of “Brundlefly” mutant hybrid I would come to expect from an attempt at splicing together the genes which produced Berlin and Master Of Puppets, but it’s a very ugly and confrontational work, and while it was no doubt a very satisfying creative experience for both parties, it seemed almost calculated to alienate everyone who was fan of one but not the other.

    • MC says:

      As a mild fan of Lulu myself, it’s true – Tin Machine definitely anticipates Loutallica. However, I think if TM 1 had come out a couple of years later, it would have seemed less perverse and anomalous and more in tune with the time (or maybe an act of bandwagon-jumping, I suppose). I think the marriage of hard rock and alternative was one of the major stories of ’90’s Indie in America. (The UK was another story, of course.)

  18. RLM says:

    Yep I definitely feel Tin Machine fell between two stools – it certainly doesn’t seem to be what Bowie purists wanted to hear (seemingly artless, bombastic, full of assertively male peacocking) – and yet too cerebral, groomed and foreign for the hair metal/hard rock crowd.

    It is obviously insane to try and draw any sort of coherent conclusion from youtube comments, but I am struck by the uncomplicated FUCK YEAH enthusiasm expressed for the live Rock Awards clip linked to above. Maybe a nuanced critical awareness of Bowie is actually (paradoxically) a barrier to appreciation on this one? Of course there is a lot to dislike for any discerning listener, but I find that live clip pretty thrilling myself and rather wish I’d been able to see them perform (my only possible chance being the unannounced gig in Sydney during sessions for TMII).

    • col1234 says:

      for what it’s worth, I remember watching that awards show (for the Replacements, mainly, who did a version of “Talent Show” where they sang “it’s too late to take pills—here we go!” as the chorus, as the awards had bleeped the reference to pill-taking in the verse).

      i recall being briefly really into the new Bowie song, thought he looked boss and liked the chorus. and then I got a bit bored with it, around the time DB sits down and has a cup of water in the clip. sort of the story of Tin Machine in microcosm. sounds so good and exciting at first listen and then it sorta dulls out. But we’ve a long way to go with this record…

  19. Gnomemansland says:

    Well after years of dross (from Bowie not PAOTD – excellent writing as always) this seems (as indeed it did at the time) pretty decent.

  20. Frankie says:

    I couldn’t believe it at first – Bowie made an album as just a member of a band – that threw me for a loop and I bought it instantly upon my surprised discovery at the record store. I didn’t hear Iggy Pop in it (although the Tin Machine sound is evident on Pop’s American Caesar and perhaps executed much better) and I mistook Gabrels’ album cover profile for Robert Fripp’s! The opening riff reminded me of the riff on Width of a Circle and I enjoyed the ambiguous lyrics and vocals buried in the thumping mix. This album had a strange psychic effect on my consciousness, with songs appearing in dreams, and the like. I quite like the album, although its tough background music. (I recall Bowie describing it as “Breakfast music for Terminators). Yes, well, sometimes whilst listening I was certainly strangled and drowned by many mashed android guitars….

    • Frankie says:

      The Iggy Pop comparison with TM is enhanced by Eric Schermerhorn’s presence, the guitarist on American Caesar. He in fact played guitar on Tin Machine’s It’s My Life tour, hence a TM-like vibe to a fantastic Iggy Pop album, with perhaps a thinly-veiled reference to Bowie on Jealousy.

  21. Remco says:

    Regarding the very long coda: It’s loud and it’s tasteless, but I find myself really liking it. Lovely way to open the album as far as I’m concerned.
    Other than that you make some fine points in this post, although I think I’m a bit more forgiving towards the Machine’s obvious flaws.

  22. Tin Man says:

    This is David Bowie’s “Moanin'”, the great Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers’ tune & Masterpiece!
    Sounds great… i ‘ll ever love this song as i do with “Moanin”.
    Art Blakey ‘s always been one of Hunt Sales’ favourite Drummer:
    ART BLAKEY is the RHYTHM HIMSELF; He brings me Joy between the Twilight & Stars &… that sense of Freedom that just a few tune bring me!

  23. I am sure as we go on there will be a lot of comment about how Bowie allowed himself to be bullied by his band during this era (no spoilers!), but I admire the psychology of Tin Machine in its almost military discipline. Bowie had to have known at this point that if he were to go he would have to scrap the layers of ego and narcissism that had built up around him. Were the Saleses and Gabrels less talented than Bowie and thus “not allowed” to keep him down? Perhaps, but one thing every drill sergeant knows is that in order to make a better soldier you have to strip someone of all ego so that his eventual pride is genuine. And I think that’s what worked here.

  24. mickey says:

    I respectfully disagree with anyone who doesn’t like the outro jam. To me, hearing Reeves Gabrels gonzo-out is the highlight on this particular track. A great bluesy number that dips Vernon Reid for a bit and has something new to offer the standard blooz. To be safely, and tastefully lyrical mixed with some daring, ego, catharsis and shatter makes this track more than just another fine entry in the great anglo-american songbook. Now, for the rest of the album, an exacto here and there could’ve served the tapes well, but for this track, you bitches stay away with your blades! This is giggling gold!

%d bloggers like this: