Tin Machine II: The Unreleased Album [no label 1CD mindwarp 1133]

Not content with being the worst studio album David Bowie had yet put his name to (an accolade that only Black Tie White Noise could snatch away), the torture that was Tin Machine II is now doubled with the appearance of its earliest demos and sessions, anything up to 42 of them according to some sources, but edited down by hands unknown to a single disc’s worth of the most significant entries. And what ho? Maybe if the band had stuck to these primal visions and outtakes, recorded in Sydney, Australia, at the end of 1989, the finished thing might have actually been a little better. 

Certainly the opening (and closing) “It’s Tough” is as precious as any of the first album’s greater highlights, while the spectral surf instrumental “Needles On The Beach” is genuinely worthy of further investigation, and wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Hours. (Both tracks appear here in three different versions.) Another instrumental, “Exodus,” rockets by on rockabilly heels, completing the triumvirate of truly exciting “new” songs. So far, so good, then.

Elsewhere, however, the pointless thrash of “Hammerhead” (familiar from the finished album) gets an early work-up, while the bulk of the rest of disc is consumed by “Blues Tunes,” 17 minutes of jamming around, indeed, a clutch of bluesy riffs, complete with studio chatter and a singing Sales brother taking control of the microphone. Which may or may not be the kind of thing you really need to hear a lot of?

One day, somebody will sit down with all the extant Tin Machine material, official and otherwise, and prove that far from being the dead end that the critics usually consider it, Tin Machine was a vital step towards Bowie’s own 1990s revival as a creative force. The evidence is already out there, and this set throws a little more into the cooking pot. - Dave Thompson

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August 15, 2008