You Can’t Talk

July 27, 2012

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.”