It’s Tough

It’s Tough (early take/mix).
It’s Tough (“final” mix).

Slated for Tin Machine II until late in the day (it was replaced by a track cut in the March 1991 final sessions for the album, either by what proved to be the master take of “If There Is Something” or the newly-recorded “One Shot”), “It’s Tough” was then sunk into the memory hole, with no public trace of its existence until a few versions leaked in 2008. According to one source (recounted on the TW message board), Bowie played a rough mix of a provisional TMII to an Australian friend, who called “Tough” the weakest track, a verdict with which Reeves Gabrels allegedly concurred. So “Tough” was kicked off the album, knocked down to a proposed B-side and ultimately shelved.*

The Machine had spent time working “It’s Tough” into shape, hardening the “Lust for Life”-esque bassline, tweaking its intricate multi-guitar intro (while sounding like a synthesizer pattern, the intro’s base is more likely a rapidly-picked guitar, close to the opening of the Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House”) and revising its structure: earlier versions had overused the “it’s tough! but! it’s okay!” refrain, while the apparent final take has an additional verse and a jabbing Bowie saxophone solo.

Bowie also scrapped some luridly violent lines (“someone driving a 4×4 threw acid on her face/she told the cops that she hacked him up/with the sharpened edge of his license plate“) in favor of a more obscure lyric that quotes Dean Martin at one point. While his earlier vocal had been more committed to malice, there was still a sharpness to Bowie’s observations, a spit in his delivery, that had been lacking in his work for over a decade: All the rats are winning…Squeezing out a generation/waiting for the next…So I lie! lie! lie! It’s the return of the Thin White Duke to a Los Angeles about to boil over in 1991. A repeated “I’m not ready for this” serves as a prayer and an excuse (& echoes a Mekons song from a few years before).

Listening the various bootleg versions of this track is an exercise in frustration, as any one of them have more kick and power than the lesser half of Tin Machine II. Cutting “It’s Tough” was a blunder, foreshadowing Bowie’s odd sequencing on Black Tie White Noise.

Recorded ca. September-October 1989, Studios 301, Sydney, with poss. overdubs 1990-March 1991. Unreleased.

* The “final” version of “Tough” likely comes from a promo CD of Tin Machine II that was assembled before its last recording sessions (recall that Bowie was shopping around the TMII tapes for a year, looking for a label).

Top: Ed Newman, “Dancing at Zydeco Fest, Plaisance, Louisiana, 1991.”

21 Responses to It’s Tough

  1. Momus says:

    This is a halfway decent track, by TM standards.

    I think what disturbs me about it is the clenched, muscular moralism, the protest element common to all the TM material. In contrast, think of the song Aladdin Sane: that detached, effete narrator summed up a lost generation so much more evocatively than this vehement shouty man. Whereas the AS narrator is slinky, resigned, alluringly decadent, hypersexual and schizoid over semi-avant garde music, the TM narrator is basically just repeating — over rancid and dated rock music filled with reheated riffs — “I dunno, the world’s gone mad!”

    It’s tough, but it’s not okay.

    • Momus says:

      Just re-read your entry on Aladdin Sane, and this quote from Bowie jumped out: “Any society that allows people like Lou and me to become rampant is pretty well lost. We’re both pretty mixed-up, paranoid people—absolute walking messes. If we’re the spearhead of anything, we’re not necessarily the spearhead of anything good.”

      I think that’s the key difference: in early Bowie, decadence and glamour are intertwined. Bowie is part of the corruption he’s describing, and he inevitably glamourises it as a result. By the TM years, he’s standing outside it, merely disgusted and disappointed.

  2. PH says:

    So, according to the Teenage Wildlife boards, Bowie played the song to an Australian friend who felt it was the album’s weakest track, and it was subsequently left off. Honestly, never solicit an Australian’s opinion – Aussie’s gobble up crap like Cold Chisel and Kylie Minogue by the bucketload. But seriously, this track is far stronger than the obvious “Sorry”, “Stateside” and even the hesitant, go-nowhere, “You Belong In Rock’n’Roll’ which was an early single.
    What surprises me the most is that Bowie would make such a strong video – its’melange of weird animation, old monster movies and band footage almost a forerunner to Franz Ferdinand’s video for “Take Me Out” – then leave the song unreleased.

  3. Momus says:

    That’s a fanvid.

  4. Jeremy says:

    Although this track is certainly flawed it shouldn’t have been left off the album. Great Sax too! Perhaps it will finally officially emerge with the album’s 40th anniversary deluxe box set edition….

  5. antihunt-hunter says:

    Vote Hunt Sales !!!…
    bande de snobs (pas tous), vous n’avez pas le monopole du bon goût; les attaques contre Tin Machine, ça fait 23 ans que ça dure…, il n’y a pas que les jolies mélodies, les ritournelles pop du petit branché idéal… Tin Machine, ça se prend live et en pleine poire… mettez vous un live de la tournée 89, écoutez la texture du son, c’est encore les 80’s mais ça sonne comme du Branca (encore un bon ami à moi) calqué sur un pattern façon power-trio (pas daté donc) home-made et c’est bon !
    à vos dicos fellows!!!

    • tin man says:

      I agree with U, Frenchie. I’m a french guy too. I’m also a great fan of the Sales brothers – real fantastic entertainment – & i don’t thing it’s such a paradox or something weird but i’m very deep into Glenn Branca & also Scott Walker (esp. Climate of H, Niteflights, Tilt, The Drift… ). Do U know Hunt & Tony’s “Hired Guns” CD ? Real Stax/Volt trip: US trad. music ! You can buy it on the web, directly from Perseverance records, then U’ll be in touch with the kind Chas Ferry who knows the Sales brothers so well ! The main thing to know about TM is that it’s not David Bowie, not another Bowie avatar as often written in the musical press.
      PS: Please buddy, for your future contributions… write in English!

    • col1234 says:

      is there really a Hunt Sales cult in France? that is fantastic. seriously.

      My French is not what it once was (it was never great) but I managed to understand most of this. Is the last command “to your dictionaries?”

      • tin man says:

        Yeah, that’s it. I don’t think there’s a Hunt Sales cult in France but this guy meant a lot to me (& still does) – kinda “borderline personality? – (i had a T-shirt i bought during a Bowie “convention”, exhibition… with “Hunt” written on it & i remember me showing it to Iggy… who then pointed his drummer with his finger). The fact is that i used to be a great fan of “Lust for Life”, completely crazy about the 77 Ig line-up… & when i discovered the first TM Lp in may 89, i thought it was high level Bowie with “cult” musicians (“I can’t read”… back to “Heroes”, sheet steel; Branca meets Fripp). I was 20, trying to study History at Paris “La Sorbonne” when they played la Cigale (20 06 89). It was sh.. i missed them because i couldn’t get a ticket (lots of VIPs or journalists). A radio broadcasted the whole gig, i recorded it but i ‘ve lost the tape… (the “high, live & dirty” bootleg is incomplete). I saw them later during their “it’s my life tour”, fantastic show with Bowie half naked sweating & positive… each member as lead vocalist excepted Eric Schermerhorn. The way the band played (i must admit that i prefered the sound of the 1989 tour – espec. Reeves sound…) was far more exciting that Bowie’s previous tour “Sound & Vision” (i admire Belew by the way…); this band seemed to play “for real” with a real drum kit & a drummer capable of playing jazz stuff.
        (…)

    • David L says:

      Here is Google’s translation: “Bunch of Snobs (not all), you do not have a monopoly of good taste; attacks against Tin Machine, it’s been 23 years … it lasts, there is not that pretty melodies, pop tunes from the small fashionable venue … Tin Machine, it is caught live and in full pear … you put a live tour 89, hear the sound texture, this is still the 80’s but it sounds like Branca (another good friend I) modeled on a pattern so power-trio (not dated so) home-made and it’s good!
      dicos your fellows!”

      • col1234 says:

        “en plein poire” basically means “in your face.” but mercy, I love “in full pear” and hope to use it at some point.

      • Momus says:

        Hunting for a peach or two — even the full pear — we wound back the lid on the tin, found gooseberries, and reached for the rotten tomatoes we keep in our dictionaries.

  6. Maj says:

    This is probably one of the better TM songs. At this point, when everything sounds the same to me this song manages to stand out. But I still wish we were past this era already.

  7. the jester of utter destruction says:

    2 Jesters in my psychee, the one we wrote about who’s north american (i mean Hunt) & the black Jester i once met in the 90’s: the missing “AWOL” KJ singer: Jaz Coleman who also recorded by the wall.

  8. Diamond Duke says:

    Now, here’s a song that damn well should have made the cut! I honestly think that they could have sacrificed one of Hunt’s numbers – or even the cover of If There Is Something – in order to make room for this. Really cool, with a slamming, punchy Lust For Life-style groove. I much prefer the later, more “finished” version of this song. The lyrics feel perhaps a bit more developed (even though they still have Bowie’s uniquely off-the-cuff, stream-of-consciousness quality to them), so perhaps everybody was starting to relax a bit on the “first-take/first draft” policy? Nifty little sax solo from the man, too…

    One definitely worth considering when the topic of box sets and special edition bonus tracks comes up!

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