Picks and Pans Review: Tin Machine

updated 07/10/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/10/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Tin Machine

Just when you think rock music can't get any weirder, it takes a knight's leap in some unexpectedly bizarre direction. Tin Machine is a quartet in which David Bowie is backed by a rhythm section made up of Soupy Sales's sons, Hunt and Tony. Sales is a comic known primarily for getting hit with pies and telling semidirty double entendre jokes on his kiddie TV show in the 1960s; breeding-wise, that makes Tin Machine the aesthetic equivalent of Jimi Hendrix recruiting Dino, Desi and Billy, the short-lived pop group featuring Dean Martin's and Desi Arnaz's offspring, to play "Purple Haze" with him.

The project also marks another twist in Bowie's career, but it is a synthesizer-shedding step back into a conventional kidney-punch rock setting. Once Tin Machine's novelty appeal fades, there isn't much to sustain interest. Oh, the music comes at you all right, primarily because of Reeves Gabrels's lacerating guitar, as penetrating as a neighbor's domestic dispute, because Bowie is singing with more zest than he has in years. That's enough to make such songs as "Under the God," "Pretty Thing," "Run" and a cover of John Lennon's "Working Class Hero" keepers.

But all the energy is up on the surface. Once the vinyl shavings have settled, you discover most of the songs are barren and indifferent. In the end, more often than not, Tin Machine's aural savagery seems pretty specious. (EMI)

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