You Can’t Talk

You Can’t Talk.
You Can’t Talk (live, 1991).

The Reeves Gabrels guitar squiggle that smirks midway through the intro of “You Can’t Talk” serves as fair warning: good taste is nowhere near. Ghastly sorta-rapped verses, their flow vaguely inspired by the Clash’s “Magnificent Seven” and their lyric pointlessly referencing “Beauty and the Beast,” give way to a chorus that at least has a melody, if a flat one. The lyric is as obscure as it’s witless: Bowie, in early takes, sang “I know you don’t blow me…away,” while in the final mix he cut out the last word, hobbling his weak bawdy joke.

Given these poor materials to work with, the band and the frenetic mix do what they can to distract the ear. The Sales brothers are fairly inspired, with Hunt turning in a hustling shuffle and Tony makes the song halfway danceable at times. Reeves is Reeves. There’s some fine rhythm guitar playing, reminiscent of early Talking Heads. To what end? It’s mildly catchy, it passes quickly enough. But a track like “You Can’t Talk” is an indictment of Tin Machine—there’s a hole in the center of this music. It’s pointless, uninspired, forgettable, forgotten.

Recorded ca. September-October 1989, Studios 301, Sydney. Four early takes circulate on bootleg. One, which goes at a slower tempo and in which Bowie’s still trying out paces and phrases, seems like a studio demo. The others are fairly close to the final track, with occasional tweaking (for example, the break after “call you over under out” (@ 2:25)  is followed by, in various takes, silence, a hi-hat, or a guitar panned left-to-right). Played throughout the 1991-92 tour, with the 24 October Hamburg show used for the Oy Vey Baby video.

Top: Flavijus, “Moscow, 1991.”

14 Responses to You Can’t Talk

  1. Can we just sum up Reeves’ contributions with “Reeves is Reeves” from here on in? Thank you.

  2. david says:

    I presume all these entries are chronological, which given that the last two entries were Hunt Sales contributions, there’s a sense that this song was informed by the same balls out mindset. By this point, Bowie must have just been gritting his teeth, and on this track it shows.

  3. Roman says:

    There are very few Bowie tracks I hate. This is one of them.

  4. MC says:

    Now Stateside is at least memorably bad. This just commits the cardinal sin of being dull dull dull!

    • Roman says:

      That’s just it, MC – Bowie can get it wrong and do bad things, but he has no right to be boring.

      Stateside, Sorry, New York’s In Love etc are rubbish – sometimes spectacularly so. But they inspire a reaction – even if it’s open-mouthed horror.

      But You Can’t Talk and (for me anyway) A Big Hurt are just boring, tuneless, rubbish, that is beneath his talent – because they’re not even failed experiments, or incomplete throwaways. If they were originals being played by a garage band in a club, I’d leave.

  5. David L says:

    I like it.

    • David L says:

      I’m kidding!

      But at least it isn’t I’m Sorry. It’s a pointless goof. Filler.

  6. David L says:

    And not to derail the comments to this fine song, but is it true that Bowie appeared during the Olympics opening ceremonies? Can anyone confirm that? If so, it looks like NBC cut that out here in the states.

    Though it was great to hear Starman during the musical montage and what did they play when the athletes from great Britain appeared? Heroes. I loved it.

  7. Maj says:

    Okay. this is really bad. That’s all I can about it.

  8. Diamond Duke says:

    Alrighty, then. if I may offer a mildly dissenting opinion…

    This kind of serves as yet another example of the Janus-faced nature of Tin Machine II, in that it looks backward at the funkier side of the Berlin years (What In The World, Look Back In Anger – and no, I’m not suggesting it’s as good as those) while anticipating the funkier side of Outside (The Voyeur Of Utter Destruction or the first Nathan Adler segue). I honestly don’t think it’s a bad song at all, and I think it’s rather endearingly quirky. Lyrically, it would seem to be yet another weird commentary on dysfunctional male/female relationships and male chauvinism (and that “Comin’ home so lay the table” line faintly conjures up the spectre of Repetition – although, once again, it’s not really up to that standard).

  9. Tennille Ashcraft says:

    very fun work

  10. KenHR says:

    I, umm…think this is kinda cool. I think Diamond Duke said what I’m thinking two years ago. Anything I’d say would be redundant (that’s what I get for finding this blog so late!).

  11. StevenE says:

    I love it, in the vein of She Can (Do That) and the epic that is Shining Star (Making My Love).

  12. Brian says:

    Interesting. This is the odd man out on Tin Machine II to me in that I think it sounds like it’s really trying to be something other than the typical Tin Machine sound. I’m surprised I hear echoes of the remaking of Look Back in Anger he would do during the Outside earlier and this may even be the ancestor of If You Can See Me on TND.

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