“Amazing” came out of Bowie and Reeves Gabrels’ composition binge of late summer 1988. Possibly inspired by Bowie’s relationship with Melissa Hurley, which was still in the honeymoon stage during the Tin Machine sessions, the lyric’s as plain-faced as Bowie ever got, though it’s not quite the unalloyed declaration of love—the singer fears his lover will finally realize their relationship is superficial (“I’m scared you’ll meet someone in whom you’ll confide,” while in the second verse he’s having nightmares about her leaving). Still, the (deliberately?) banal chorus keeps to the pleasures of the moment.
A power ballad of sorts in E major, “Amazing” has a touch of drama with its shift to the parallel minor in the chorus, and on the whole it’s not too far removed from post-comeback Aerosmith (even the title’s very Diane Warren). The Machine’s attempt at an Eighties hard rock ballad is full of tension and unease, however. Bowie likely took his initial verse melody from Gabrels’ ascending stepwise scale playing, while his later emphases are off-kilter at times—take his thudding “girl,” which he hammers as he sinks nearly an octave, disrupting the earlier, soaring sense of development. And the rhythm section is a ball of agitation, with Hunt Sales in particular seemingly on the verge of going off on a tear with every fill.
Still, there’s some fine acoustic guitar work here (likely Kevin Armstrong); Gabrels’ seagull-cry feedback in the intro is interesting, if pointless, while he gets off a couple of sonorous lines between choruses. The producer Tim Palmer said that Bowie shelved many of the more melodic pieces from the Tin Machine sessions so as to offer a bristling front for the Machine’s debut: this contributed to the sense of exhaustion one gets when enduring the record as a whole. In that context, the track’s place in the sequencing—leading off the album’s second side—makes “Amazing” seem like a happy spot of relief, even if the track is a barely-held ceasefire.
Recorded ca. August 1988 at Mountain Studios, Montreux, and/or Compass Point Studios, Nassau, Bahamas, ca. November-December 1988. A live version from the Academy, NYC, in 1991 is on Oy Vey Baby.
Top: Tim Richmond, “Emma Thompson,” 1988. During the era of her short-lived and fervently unfunny comedy show, Thompson.