Black Tie White Noise
First released: 1993 (LP, MC, Cassette)
First some context: It’s been 20 years since Ziggy Stardust, 10 since Let’s Dance, and 2 or 3 since Tin Machine. Bowie has been through the career low of the mid-late 80s, lived through the ‘group’ experience (not entirely unscathed by either), redeemed his good name with the ‘Sound+Vision’ tour and has fallen in love and got married to Iman. Pop/rock music has also moved on – 80s artifice is being pushed aside for a return to ‘unplugged’ and the post-rave, grunge generation is pushing ahead. Now he’s back with a new solo album. Producer Nile Rogers is back too, and wants ‘Let’s Dance 2’. Let’s see how Bowie reacts.
First, The Album in General: OK so it’s a ‘concept’ album, a wedding present to his new bride, it’s all about being in love, about being united with your better half, about couples, about matching, about two worlds colliding . ..the ying and the yang…the black and the white. Here it is, track by track.
Not many albums start with an instrumental (with bells) although Bowie has managed it in the past and is not afraid of it. Is that him playing the sax? If so, good! Checking through the discogs entry, this track wasn’t included on the original vinyl LP, which instead opens with…
You’ve Been Around
So let’s get the (wedding) party started proper: excellent track and at first reminded me of what I’d heard and remembered of the first Tin Machine album, but obviously there’s a good reason for that -it was co-written with fellow Tin-Man Reeves Gabels. It’s also Bowie’s first new vocal performance on a solo record and he augments his voice with a kind of synthesised female/vocoder ghost backing? Ok it works but I’d like to hear a stripped back vocal too. There was a promo-video made for this but it was never a single release. Pity.
I Feel Free
I was racking my ageing brains trying to think what this reminded me of and of course it’s the original by Cream. Apparently he’s been playing around with this one since the early 70s and finally it gets to see the light of day on a proper record. Ironically it also turns out to be an epitaph for Mick Ronson, the other half of Bowie’s perhaps longest running partnership. I like Bowie’s baritone vocal register on this too.
Black Tie White Noise
Apparently inspired by the race riots in LA when the newly-weds were in town house hunting. It’s a grower even though this kind of white-soul-funk is already a bit dated. I do wonder about the choice of a co-vocalist (one Al B. Sure!), but then again it’s the black/white thing, the dichotomy, the pairings. The “..what’s going on..” lyric obviously a tribute to Marvin Gaye who also lived through racial tensions and channeled it all into music. Bowie carried off and basically invented the white funk thing with Young Americans and he here proves he can still do it.
Jump They Say
Obviously the stand out track of the album and not by chance the ‘comeback’ single. Great song, perfect production, and an excellent video too citing various Hitchcock themes (high-rise vertigo, birds, being spied on) and also elements of previous videos and visuals (the Lodger corpse, the smeared lipstick of Boys Keep Swinging). Great vocal range, synthesised trumpeting and driving rhythms ..let’s dance! Apparently this is about his half brother who attempted suicide by jumping off a tall building…
Excellent rendition and updating of the original song which dates back to ’78. At last Bowie reveals his admiration for the talents of the Walker Bros. and even more crucially the vocal talents and style of Scott Walker. He sounds so much like Scott on this one, its doubled-up vocal tracks make it seem like a duet (was it?).
Another (obscure) instrumental save for the ‘God is on top of it all‘ chanting over Bowie’s attempt at a ‘rave’ anthem. Apparently he had a demo sent around clubs before release without revealing it was a new track by David Bowie. It’s odd but I do like an ‘odd’ Bowie instrumental.
A quirky, jokey, sloppy thing for the missus… Nice enough and a break from the more serious vocal stuff. Was a single too but bombed, apparently. Damn silly video, too.
Don’t Let Me Down and Down
An(other) odd thing: a cover version but lyrics ‘translated’ form the Mauritanian original – it was of course Iman who first introduced it to him. Another dichotomy. Africa meets Europe, again reflecting the marriage. Strange ‘faux-patois’ pronunciation at the beginning – works better when his vocal opens up towards the end.
Looking For Lester
Lester’s marvellous trumpeting is of course all over this album but here he gets his own (instrumental) track which is pure joy. Reminds me a lot of the Ryuichi Sakamoto Heartbeat album which had come out a couple of years earlier – who’s that on the piano? Jazz for the 90s. Let’s dance some more.
I Know It’s Gonna Happen One Day
I had no idea this was a cover version, never mind a Morrisey song! Sounds more like something John Lennon may have written in the 70s (when he and Bowie were mates). I’ve listened to the original now and full marks to DB for turning it into something ‘new’.
The Wedding Song
..and so we return to the ‘concept’ .. .Basically the opening instrumental with lyrics this time. He’s married, he’s happy, he’s made a decent album. Sigh of relief all round….except on the part of Nile Rogers who was left feeling ‘frustrated’ – he didn’t get ‘Let’s Dance 2’, and in the USA in general. I read the record label (Savage?) went bust due to poor sales and sued DB. He won.
Jump they Say (alternative mix)
Interesting but I prefer the urgency of the album/single version.
Lucy Can’t Dance
Shameless out and out pop record which Rogers liked a lot but again was left feeling frustrated when it was left off the LP, and ‘demoted’ to bonus track on the CD. Too banal? Too pop? Apparently a dig at none other than Madonna, for whom Bowie had little regard…therefore too provocative?
Now available from….
The Black Tie White Noise album is still available from good on-line retailers, usually in CD or as a digital download. The album was re-issued as digital remaster in 2003 with different bonus tracks, and simultaneously as a special Deluxe 2xCD + DVD edition. A further 12 track CD was released in 2015.
Spotify carries the 12 track version but also a 12 track ‘extras’ album, which is also available for digital download.