Baby Universal

Baby Universal.
Baby Universal (Paramount City, 1991).
Baby Universal (video, 1991).
Baby Universal (live, 1991).
Baby Universal (Saturday Night Live, 1991).
Baby Universal (live, 1996).

Hot tramp! We loved you so. Now sit down, man. You’re a fucking disgrace.

So ended the Melody Maker‘s review of Tin Machine II. Jon Wilde, responsible for the bludgeoning, said on a Guardian comment thread that “Bowie’s PR later told me that Bowie read it and cried when he got to the last line. I’m not proud of that. But that was the last we heard of Tin Machine. If my review had any small influence on Bowie’s decision to disband, then at least my career as a music hack wasn’t entirely pointless.”

Tin Machine had been received in the press with some bafflement but mainly with relief that Bowie seemed to be trying to put the Eighties behind him. Tin Machine II, issued two years later, was spat on. In Spin. Jonathan Bernstein called the record “a follow-up as eagerly awaited as Mannequin 2: On the Move” and Bowie “a man made ridiculous by adhering to rules he wrote for his most rickety and least publicly subscribed persona.” Bill Wyman, in Entertainment Weekly: “Anonymous, grinding rockers…songs with passable chorus hooks and nothing in the verses to support them. Meaningless lyric after meaningless lyric.”

Two decades on, Tin Machine II remains an ignored, unloved album, a commercial and critical failure (peaking at #23 in the UK, #126 in the US) that killed Bowie’s relationship with EMI, which had refused to release it. When Bowie shopped the TMII tapes around to other labels, one exec said “a band like Tin Machine could bankrupt the whole enterprise” (as per C. Sandford’s bio).

TMII‘s reception is unsurprising if one considers the perspective of the average Bowie fan at the turn of the Nineties. Summer 1989: Bowie puts out Tin Machine, tours a bit to support it. Okay. Fall 1989: the Sound + Vision career retrospective appears, followed by a staggered CD reissue of the classic Bowie catalog, some of which had fallen out of print. The likes of “Velvet Goldmine,” “Sweet Head,” “Some Are” and “Who Can I Be Now” are finally released. Reappraisal of Bowie’s genius in the press. March-September 1990: Bowie tours the world, singing the old hits, winning adulation and forgiveness for past musical sins. He seemed restored to his former place in collective memory. He was “relevant” again. Who knew what he would do next? September 1991: hold on, it’s another goddamn Tin Machine album?

The record came at the wrong time: its creation had been a mess. While most of TMII was cut in a few weeks in the autumn of 1989, with the band, fresh from their mini-tour, in good spirits and working at a fast clip, a combination of delays—EMI’s refusal to release TMII and Bowie subsequently not having a record deal, and Bowie’s decision to put TMII on the back burner to concentrate on the Sound + Vision tour/retrospective—led to TMII being released two years after its main sessions.

And during their album and tour promotions in late 1991, Tin Machine itself seemed an abrasive and desperate collection. It wasn’t just the “we’re four dicks” album cover illustration, which caused an inane mini-controversy when US record dealers refused to carry it until the statues’ genitalia were obscured. The group persona of Tin Machine could seem smug, mildly bullying and pathetic. Bowie in particular has never been as unpleasant a public figure than he was during this time, whether condescendingly telling an interviewer “you seem like a smart girl—why are you asking me this” when she brought up the cover art controversy (the only newsworthy thing about the record) or acting like a boor to Paula Yates and on the Wogan show (Terry Wogan later said Bowie’s behavior nearly earned him a slap in the face).*

The album, nearly forgotten amidst the teacup tempests of its promotion, deserved better. Tin Machine II, at its best, is Bowie trying to create a viable template to move forward—it’s the rough draft of Outside, Earthling and the last records—and to better wed his commercial instincts with his avant-garde ones. Of course, that had been Bowie’s intent with Never Let Me Down as well, though that record wound up being a compromise which failed all sides.

Now Bowie had Reeves Gabrels serving as prosecutor. For Gabrels, rock music had stagnated after punk had died—in 1989, guitarists were still hung up on trying to play Jimi Hendrix, he said, which had chloroformed the instrument’s development. Why play the same blues licks Albert King could’ve played in 1965? Taking inspiration from Adrian Belew and Allan Holdsworth, Gabrels tried to recast the role of lead guitar. He considered lead playing as a series of disparate events, he told Musician in 1991. “The events get people from the verse to the chorus, or through the second verse after they’ve heard the melody once…the current listener’s horizon time is shorter in terms of how often you have to give them things to keep them interested.” While avant-garde in theory, the strategy also suggested developments in commercial film in the Nineties, with action movies, for example, becoming a series of explosive spectacles connecting plot point to plot point.

For Gabrels, an “event” could be anything—the tone of a vibrator pressed against the guitar neck, for instance, or a riff stolen from a speed metal record cropping up in a ballad—and he coupled that with an attempt to work in a “modal chromaticism,” that is, using a combination of various modes with a common tonic chord, and so letting the player essentially use any note on a variety of scales.** In Gabrels’ words, the rule was to “play any note you want, as long as you end on a right note.” So if a Tin Machine song was in E major, for example, Gabrels could play in E Phrygian, a scale that would let him play “notes that shouldn’t be there” (say an F when it should be an F-sharp). It was a seat-of-the-pants strategy that sometimes led (deliberately) to bizarre excesses, but in other cases created passages of uncanny melodies, or shocking counterpoints that elevated a banal chord progression.

And TMII became Gabrels’ record. With Bowie occupied for much of 1990 on Sound + Vision, Gabrels kept toying with the roughs, adding more and more guitar overdubs, recording dozens of new solos, sometimes just a few tweaked or buzzed notes. The finished result was a Glenn Branca-esque wall of battling guitars—on some tracks like “You Belong In Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Gabrels’ collected overdubs took up the vast majority of the 56-track master.

As a counterweight to Gabrels’ ambitions was a more collected and tighter band, with Bowie contributing more rhythm guitar than on the first Tin Machine. When the band assembled in Sydney in September 1989 to record the album, they were in high spirits. A group camaraderie had developed, as Bowie had traveled with the rest of Tin Machine in buses throughout that summer’s tour, playing cards and pretending he was 20 years old again. So although Bowie and Gabrels had been reluctant to make another record so soon (Bowie’s attention was becoming consumed with the Sound +Vision project), they bowed to the Sales brothers’ wishes to capitalize on the generous collaborative mood.

It helped that they had some material stockpiled: “Baby Universal” and a cover of Roxy Music’s “If There Is Something” had been tried out in the first LP sessions, while Hunt Sales’ “Sorry” had been road-tested. Other tracks came together quickly, over a few days in the studio. And a general agreement to reduce the guitar-drum artillery of the first record to focus more on melody and structure lessened the monotony of the Machine’s debut album—there was brutalist surf music, pop metal, dressing-room blues.

So yes, a distracted Bowie allowed his drummer to write and sing two songs, both of which are among the most hated pieces in the Bowie catalog, and Tin Machine hadn’t lost its habit of overplaying and throttling promising material to death. But at its best, which I would argue is about half of the album, Tin Machine II had some of Bowie’s strongest writing since Let’s Dance. Rather than being a throwback to reclaim past glories (as would happen in 1992), TMII is the record of a man finally coming to terms with his extremities, and being helped, rather than being buried, by his bandmates.

Bowie and Gabrels had written some of “Baby Universal” in their first extended songwriting collaboration, back in the summer of 1988, so it hails from the same period that produced “I Can’t Read” and “Amazing.” While he worked on “Baby Universal” during Tin Machine, Bowie had soon set the song aside—from the producer Tim Palmer’s perspective, it seemed as though Bowie considered the song too catchy, too rewarding, to suit his hard rock deconstructionist manifesto.

“Baby Universal” is a boundary work for Bowie, calling back to past songs yet setting terms for the future (both “Hallo Spaceboy” and “Looking For Satellites” seem to have come out of it). Its lyric concerns another of Bowie’s space messiah figures, first viewed skeptically in the verse (where he’s compared to a spoiled child, a product of awful, chaotic parents) then with a grand annunciation in the chorus. Where earlier incarnations, the Supermen, Ziggy, the Pretty Things or the Starman, had promised some sort of liberation, the space messiah here is self-contained, jaded (“it doesn’t matter–I’ve seen everything anyway,” he says in the brief second verse), imploding into himself, with humanity an afterthought. The chanted opening, where a repeated “baby” is mixed with barely-audible interjections (including “thinking/walk” and “lost/found”), suggests that the messiah’s been reborn as stream of binary code.

In A major for its verses, “Baby” shifts to a vague G major for the start of its chorus until an E dominant chord (on “I’m the baby now“) brings the song back into A. The past bleeds through: the first prechorus vocal melody (“failures as fathers”) seems a rewrite of the chorus of “Under the God,” while the “no baby no baby NO” tag calls back to some of Eno’s rock tracks from the Seventies, like “King’s Lead Hat.” The chorus itself, with its eerie guitar/organ accompaniment, matches the lyric’s attempted grandeur—it seems a deliberate attempt to hint at “Space Oddity” at first—and then builds to the thrashing title refrain, with Bowie howling the line twice, then letting it expire with a final slurred “U-ni-vers-ULL.”

It’s an ideal album opener: a tight, contained performance, with Tony Sales playing Kim Deal to Gabrels’ Joey Santiago, its mix littered with fine details (the tambourine in the pre-chorus, Hunt Sales’ lightning-fast drum fills to trigger chord changes in the verse) and with a Bowie lyric that’s as well-crafted (the nice internal rhymes of “humans” and “assume you’re”) as it’s sloppy (Bowie rhymes “thinking” with “thinking” in the chorus). The Nineties would be Bowie’s long battle of reconquest, a bid for the throne by an exile who seemed not to care anymore, so paradoxically his ambitions grew in stature; all of it starts here.

Recorded ca. September-October 1989, Studios 301, Sydney (w/overdubs throughout 1990 and at A&M Studios, March 1991). Released in October 1991 as Tin Machine II‘s second and last single (LOCDT310 c/w BBC versions of “Stateside,” “If There Is Something” and “Heaven’s In Here,” #48 UK). Performed throughout the 1991-92 tour, often with Bowie and Gabrels on dueling “headless” Steinbergers. It was played a number of times on TV, including Top of the Pops and Saturday Night Live on 23 November 1991, Bowie’s second of three appearances on SNL.

* To be fair, Bowie was irritated that the BBC had made him lip-sync “You Belong In Rock ‘n’ Roll” for the show, and Wogan does come off as a dim, gaseous uncle here.

** Gabrels, in the Musician interview, said the term had been coined by “a couple of jazz oriented friends of mine,” but it actually was Bela Bartok, who was not a regular in the Boston music scene.

Top: Andrew McDonald, “Drag Queens, Sydney, 1990.”

42 Responses to Baby Universal

  1. jopasso says:

    Hey! I like it. Not a piece of art, but I don’t get tired of it.
    At least it has some “bowieness” in it.

    Now, The Secret Life of Arabia is a gem only because it is part of “Heroes”, and BU a pile of crap because it is part of TM?

    Let’s be serious

    • figgy pudding says:

      I think the difference is Secret Life of Arabia was a fun track that didn’t take itself too seriously, where as Baby Univeral is a bad track that takes itself a little too seriously.

      Then there’s the fact that the production and backing band on the former is approximately 50 times better than TM.

  2. Rob Bingham says:

    I saw Tin Machine live in Brixton in 1991. A missile thrown from the crowd hit Bowie in the eye and he performed half the set with an eye patch. The line “It doesn’t matter – I’ve seen everything anyway” was sung with a knowing smile.

  3. david says:

    Wonderful reassessment of the album, and set in the (dis)continuity of the times-album 1-greatest hits tour-abum 2… it makes perfect sense why there was a tide of hostility against the second album.
    And while some of the hacks still belabor that TM was a grand folly, its refreshing to read how it was a necessary step in shaping the work that was to come. Bravo-You are to be commended.

  4. Gnomemansland says:

    Hmmm I was in the UK at the time and still very much a Bowie fan and whilst most of us were not all that enamoured with Tin Machine, Tin Machine 2 sounded like a big improvement on its predecessor. Whilst I can’t deny the press was not brimful of praise I do recall that the feeling that this was a big improvement was not an uncommon reaction – indeed arguably Tin Machine 2 was the start of the ‘Bowie back on form’ line that would accompany almost every subsequent Bowie release.

  5. crylikeaman says:

    Man, after years of reading about that Wogan interview, seeing the real thing was… I don’t want to say ‘disappointing,’ because whatever. Mostly I’m horrified by those suits, and also how charming Tony Sales is! What a cutie!

    Tin Machine II is like an EP’s worth of “lost singles.” I would put “You Belong in Rock And Roll” with the best, but “Baby Universal” is just below the tier. It’s a goofy space-age rocker. I diggeth.

  6. Tim says:

    I could never understood the calumny heaped on TMII. While it’s certainly no masterpiece I always found it an enjoyable listen–superior, in my listening, to TMI. “Shopping for Girls” ranks, for me, along with “Lucy Can’t Dance” as two of the most under appreciated songs in the Bowie canon.

    Great work! Keep going…

  7. Roman says:

    With reference to the 1990 tour and the Ryko reissue campaign; I didn’t at the time, get the impression that Bowie was ‘back relevant’ at all. Most of the commentary that I read in 1990, while praising the reissues, all pointed out how rubbish Bowie had been for the last ten years (Let’s Dance was still being sniffily considered a sell-out album) and how dismally his new output compared to the Golden Years.
    As for the S&V tour itself – many of the reviews were appalling, not only criticising the sound/band but also referring to Bowie as washed up and irrelevant. Most reviews pointed out that the average age at Bowie’s concerts were late-20’s and up. Certainly at the gigs I went to in Dublin, the gangs of teens who had gone to see the Glass Spider Tour (at Slane) has vanished, replaced by suits and married couples out for a night out.

    Absolutely brilliant piece on Baby Universal, btw! One thing though – are you missing Pretty Pink Rose and Gun Man? Or are you counting them as recorded after TMII, since they came in-between the albums main sessions?

    • col1234 says:

      the chronology gets really screwy here. basically it’s going to be: most of TMII, then the Belew songs, a Sound & Vision wrapup, a few stray DB live things and then the last TMII song (recorded way after the others).

      & yes “relevant” not quite the right word (that part of the piece i’m not happy with–very rushed writing)–more correct perhaps to say that DB was revived via canonization in the way “Oh Mercy” had w/Dylan, “Freedom” w/Young and God even “Steel Wheels” with the Stones—his own deliberate self-assessment (to sell boxed sets) prompted a critical reassessment of his overall worth, making DB fresh again in the eyes of some of the audience.

      • david says:

        I agree-he wasn’t seen as relevant, but there was a sterling two issue review of the S&V tour in the NME, which was the first positive thing I’d seen about him in the Indie press for years.

    • sigmata martyr says:

      Yes, in a stateside S+V show my friends and I were horrified to be the youngest people milling around among fans our parents age… Bowie had a hard time around this period and it didn’t help that he insisted to anyone who would listen that he wasn’t going to perform the old songs after that tour.

  8. nijinska says:

    Despite coming from the first ever Bowie album I didn’t feel like I needed, I’ve always loved this song, and the many ‘live’ (ish) versions which were broadcast at the time were all exciting to watch: it was a real relief to see him with the stick out of his ass. He promoted the hell out of this as a single, but I always thought he looked like he was genuinely enjoying himself whenever he sang it. He certainly sounds more himself here than on anything from the first album, and his hula at the end of the Hamburg version (the third video listed here) showed a lightness and humour which I’d desperately missed. Maybe the solo tour had boosted his confidence sufficiently for him to be ‘Bowie’ again. If only more of the Tin Machine experiment had been as poppy and energetic – this one rocks. And look, no beard!

  9. Patrick says:

    After the creative lows that were most of the 80s, I’d always thought TM was his attempt to get back to Year Zero. Not pretty at all but something he probably needed to get out of his system. But he’s no Iggy & the Stooges (if he’s looking back that far) and it’s a increasing case where he seems to be following trends rather than making them if the grunge scene was any influence. It’s also bit like Laurence Oliver working at the box office at the local theatre or in local rep. His past couldn’t be erased by knowing observers. The Wogan interview doesn’t seem that bad – you can see he doesn’t want to be the focus or get drawn into a “I liked you when your films were funny ” Woody Allen type line of questioning. It’s also in a very long line of Bowie interviews where he deflects questions with off beat quips or humour (of varying success.)

  10. Momus says:

    The problem with Tin Machine’s approach is that it was inflationary, in the same way that 1980s music production itself had become inflationary. Partly because of innovations Bowie himself had helped pioneer in the late 70s (the big snare sound on Low, the yelps of randomly-edited Fripp guitar), 1980s production had strained to make everything sound louder, brighter, cleaner, more resounding. Every snare hit was an explosion! Drumsticks now sounded like telegraph poles! Guitars were death-screams! The effect was like a frenetic trailer for a film with a trifling script, an engine revving high in neutral, a hamster racing around a wheel.

    So the decision to ratchet back the rock power on TMII was a good one, but the band was still left looking very much “overtaken by events”. With his ultra-dry Kiss single Prince had found a way out of the inflationary spiral created by the 1980s overuse of reverb, and a new generation of bands like Massive Attack, Primal Scream and The Stone Roses were using softer, shuffling beats inspired by Soul II Soul’s subtle, layered, funky, computerised drum programming. Records like Fool’s Gold and Daydreaming sound shockingly introverted beside Baby Universe, yet by keeping their powder dry and their sounds fresh-yet-retro (the Akai sampler connected to a turntable largely replaced the guitar) they achieved something soulful, meaningful to listeners, non-inflationary.

    • Gnomemansland says:

      Yes true enough Bowie helped start the whole bigger and louder movement that became the key production value of the 1980s is still evident today however his main problem was that he had done ‘it’ all and maybe too quickly. Soul II Soul for example were mining a funk vein Bowie himself had already explored on Station to Sationn and Young Americans.

  11. Pinstripe Hourglass says:

    Whether promoting a genius album or a shit one, Bowie in general has had one of the most interesting, intelligent, and likable personalities I’ve ever seen in a rock star.

    When he’s with Tin Machine, he comes off as an asshole. For all of Bowie’s and Gabrel’s progressive musical idealogy, the persona of Tin Machine was as far from avant garde as you can get. It’s all dumb, misogynistic rock retread, the kind of which Bowie had mostly avoided in his career up until this point. It baffles me.

  12. Jeremy says:

    Great write up!

    I’m a Bowie freak and I’ve never really listened properly to this LP. So I can’t comment at the moment. Now is the time for me to check it out I guess.

  13. Diamond Duke says:

    I love Baby Universal! It’s my favorite Tin Machine song. And you’re right, it’s a very important song in that while it looks backward to Bowie’s earlier “alien messiah” characters, it also looks forward to Outside and Earthling (in particular Hallo Spaceboy). The funny thing is, the lyric sort of amusingly recasts Bowie on the other side of the generation gap. Whereas in his younger years he seemed to relate very much to the “pretty things…driving [their] mamas and papas insane”, here he laments “When the child goes bad it’s no cause for celebration / Like Jimmy Dean, he don’t talk back to me”, and we also have the mournful, “where-did-we-go-wrong?” sentiments of “Failures as fathers / mothers to chaos”. And what you’ve identified as the “self-contained” and “jaded” nature of the title character is presented in a less than flattering light.

    The song also has a very strong Scary Monsters feel to it. In fact, to borrow from your comparison of Never Let Me Down with Diamond Dogs, I’d have to say that Baby Universal is the “parallel major” to Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps). In fact, in the live ’96 performance (on the Outside tour), there is this really cool percussive “clink!” sound (on the prechorus/chorus) which reminds me very much of a something rather similar in the album version of Scary Monsters.

    And you’re also right about Tin Machine II being a much better album overall than most people give it credit for. True, it kind of ranks #2 on my Bowie Guilty Pleasure list after Never Let Me Down, but that’s mainly down to the Hunt Sales numbers (which I honestly don’t think are really that awful). While TM2 is certainly flawed, it’s an important transitional work to Bowie’s ’90s creative renaissance.

    BTW, completely apropos of nothing (but since when do I ever let that stop me? – ha, ha, ha…):
    I just recently acquired the Special Edition of the Glass Spider DVD! You know, the one with the additional 2-CD set of the show in Montreal? I didn’t think it was half bad, actually! The dancers were very entertaining, the musicianship was spot-on (if perhaps overly spit-shined), and the choices of lesser-known earlier songs in the set were inspired (Sons Of The Silent Age, All The Madmen and Big Brother on the CD set). Not to mention all that quite endearingly daft dialogue: “We can’t have rock stars crossbreeding with normal people!!”

  14. Diamond Duke says:

    BTW, a few more things which I forgot to mention in my first post (silly rabbit!):

    In my opinion, Tin Machine II is really where the Bowie/Gabrels songwriting firm begins to find its feet. Songs like Baby Universal, Amlapura, Betty Wrong and Shopping For Girls clearly indicate a very strong, sophisticated melodic sensibility at work. (Not to mention their wonderful later work for the ‘Hours…’ album. And one of the B-sides from that period, We All Go Through, certainly wouldn’t have sounded out of place on TM2.) People who tend to dismiss Reeves Gabrels as nothing more than an exhibitionist noisemaker would do well to go back and listen to those songs particularly.

    Once again, completely apropos of nothing…
    My one primary beef with the Glass Spider DVD is with the audio, because there are times when you can barely hear Peter Frampton’s guitar parts at all! During his sparring with Carlos Alomar on the solo section of The Jean Genie, you can hear Carlos loud and clear, but you can barely hear Frampton at all! (Of course, I can’t help thinking that Alomar would probably be secretly amused by that…)

  15. princeasbo says:

    As has been pointed out ad nauseum, David Bowie’s particular genius lies not in innovation, but rather the co-opting of innovation slightly before the mainstream thereby avoiding the passé (pop’s most dreaded condition). What I hear and see in Tin Machine is passé personified: a fairly tired, fairly smug “alternative” rock band pulling musical/rhetorical moves well past their sell-by, if not use-by date and nothing to get excited about.

    While probably not deserving the opprobrium levelled at them, neither do they warrant many props. Seriously, what is the point?

  16. Ian Fryer says:

    I think Baby Universal is the best thing Tin Machine ever recorded, as it’s up there in my top ten Bowie tracks ever. Were I ever daft enough to make such a list many songs would drop in and out from week to week, but BU is one that would remain. I bought Tin Machine II while on a working holiday in Seattle (I’m from England), so got the cover with obscured genitalia.

    I was recommending some more recent Bowie to a friend the other week, who looked at me suspiciously and said “it’s not Tin Machine, is it?”. I guess the band’s reputation goes before it.

  17. MikeF says:

    I just found out about this blog so this is my first comment.

    There are some interesting parallels between Bowie/Tin Machine and Todd Rundgren/Utopia. Both Bowie and Rundgren were successful solo artists who wanted to go back to being in a band. So Bowie and Rundgren both formed bands with the Sales brothers! (Although the version of Utopia with Sales brothers from 1973 never made a record. Perhaps the Sales brothers weren’t strong enough musically, possibly because Todd wanted to do prog rock.) Audiences and record companies preferred Bowie and Rundgren as solo artists instead of embracing their new bands.

    Like many at the time, I wasn’t at all excited by the prospects of another Tin Machine record. The first TM record at least had shock value going for it. Bowie formed a new, noisy, aggressive band so it took some time to process it. By the time TM II came out, I decided I wasn’t keen on TM and wasn’t looking for more TM product. Besides TM II seemed like a blander version of the Machine with the rough edges removed. It would take a lot more than this to reverse critical opinions after Never Let Me Down and TM I. To me, “Baby Universal” is just another average Bowie pop song rather than the start of the renaissance. I fail to see any flashes of brilliance in it.

  18. Joe the Lion says:

    I become a Bowie fan in 1990, when I was 13 and the reissues were being, erm, reissued. Tin Machine II was the first new ‘Bowie’ album to come out from my point of view, and so it was a bit of an event – although I was already aware that his work was no longer at the peak of the albums I’d been so fervently collecting.

    I really put a lot of effort in to Tin Machine, I wanted so much to love them. I watched every TV appearance, I bought the You Belong in Rock and Roll single in the limited edition tin, and I got the new album the day it came out. I recall the band playing Baby Universal on TV shows when promoting the album. I thought it odd that You Belong In Rock and Roll was the single release, when Baby Universal spoke so much to Bowie fans – a space theme, and catchy hooks I can still remember despite not hearing it for many many years.

    Baby Universal would stand scrutiny as decent enough in a compilation of Bowie’s 90s work, and would be the highlight in a compilation of Tin Machine tracks. In the former company, it would seem obvious that he was clawing his way back to satisfying creativity. In the latter company, it would seem like an uncharacteristically well-constructed track and not representative of the band.

  19. TW Duke says:

    A bit off topic since this blog is about the music itself and not the physical packaging of Bowie’s music, but since you mention the U.S. Rykodisc reissues of Bowie’s CDs here…was I the only one who loved the content and bonus tracks on those Ryko reissues, but found them physically terrible CDs??

    If you chose to store them not in the jewel cases they came in, but in one of those space-saving black binders that could hold many CDs (as I did), the ink/paint label on the top surface of the Ryko Bowie CDs eventually reacted with the plastic that covered the CDs’ tops to hold them in the folder and got mushy, resulting in sticky, hard to use CDs (they’d get stuck in the folder… mushy ink would start migrating to the playing surface of the CD….) I eventually threw them all away later in the 90s.

    I never had that happen with any other CDs I’ve ever bought, just the Bowie Rykodisc ones. Made it a doubly frustrating time to be a fan (couldn’t stand TMII, and I didn’t get a long-life span out of those long-craved Ryko reissues that began coming out in the U.S. about that time…)

    • col1234 says:

      I don’t recall that (i’m too anal to put CDs in binders), but I do recall Ryko’s CD cases as being absolute crap—the teeth that held the CD in place constantly snapped off. At one point 75% of the Costello reissues I owned were in this condition.

      • KenHR says:

        Yes, I worked in record stores throughout the ’90s and those green cases were notorious for those teeth breaking off. Many returns due to pieces scraping the disc, people wanting good cases, etc.

    • Yep. Happened to me. For the most part I keep my CDs in their cases but occasionally I would buy a bunch second hand or take them out to travel with. I seill have a binder where the plastic on the sleeve contains a complete reproduced image of Sound and Vision disc 3. Appalling.

    • Silly me,I kept my Ryko Bowie CDS in their jewel cases and they’re still fine today!

  20. Maj says:

    Awww, our poor baby Bowie cried. Nah. Served him well.

    I kinda love it when he gets into his full Dirk Bogarde mode in some interviews (his Bogarde persona pops up throughout his career) – watch one of the few Bogarde interviews available on Youtube to understand what I mean.

    Baby Universal, actually, is one of the best TM songs we’ve come across here so far. Reminds me of what was to come (Buddha and Earthling especially). A pretty good song.

  21. Anonymous says:

    A great writeup for a great song: one of TM’s best. (It sounds like Ziggy fronting The Pixies, which must have been the point.) For me, though, the album as a whole, despite its moments of excellence like this one, falls short. Perhaps due to its protracted recording schedule and song selection, the record seems like a bit of a hodgepodge, lacking the brutal raison d’etre of its precursor. You have tracks suggesting the Scary Monsters 2 that could have been the followup to NLMD (no one could mistake this for an Iggy Pop record)…but then you have the Hunt Sales twosome, and a couple of really dull rock plodders. Still, I’d take this over Black Tie, White Noise anyday…

    The defensiveness of DB’s public persona in this period is pretty understandable, really, given reviews like Melody Maker’s. (I still remember the t-shirts for sale when I saw them live, saying Fuck You, I’m In Tin Machine.) Personally, I think DB really put himself on the line with the band move, playing crappy corporate gigs and giving interviews to every rock radio station and video clip show that would have them. There was a lot of passion and conviction evident in his role in the band, so I think he/they ought to be defended (which is more than I can say for the lime-green suits). 🙂

  22. MC says:

    Woops, MC here! 🙂

  23. sunrayjahchild says:

    shudda lipped terry fucken wogan, thattada bin good tv

  24. I think as long as you eliminate the Hunt solos, Tin Machine II is a better, more vibrant record than its predecesor. It manages to comine the ego-dismantling work ethic of Tin Machine with genuone newness and allows more Bowie to seep in. Baby Universal is a great song. I said it. Haven’t yet clicked on the link and it’s already in my head, full force.

  25. 87Fan says:

    Col1234: I’m surprised you didn’t catch that Bowie had re-recorded this song during the Earthling sessions. I managed to find an interview of him stating that and put it up on Wikipedia. In any case, I was hoping maybe you had more insight into this but apparently it’s news? Maybe we’ll get to hear it one day…

  26. 87Fan says:

    Minor nit; the term Reeves used was “tonal chromaticism” not “modal chromaticism.” Unless he said it twice in two places and said it differently each time. My source is the September 91 interview in Musician Magazine.

    • col1234 says:

      says “modal chromaticism” on p. 48 of that issue. at least my copy does.

      • 87Fan says:

        Wow I’m not usually one to mess up stuff like that. I’ll check my copy this weekend when I can dig it out. If nothing else, I’ll have to fix the Wikipedia entry!

      • 87Fan says:

        You’re right and I’m wrong. Sorry about that. Don’t know how I missed that. I peeked through some of my other contemporary magazines to see if I’d actually pulled the quote from something else and mis-attributed it, but I couldn’t find anything.

      • col1234 says:

        oh, i’m wrong on all sorts of things. No worries,

  27. Ron says:

    There’s something I don’t really get with the Wogan-Performance. Everytime Wogan tries to ask Bowie a question, Bowie turns to the audience and shout “Hallo Ron!”. Who the heck is “Ron”??

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