Black Tie White Noise

  1. The Wedding [5.04]

  2. You've Been Around [4.45]

  3. I Feel Free [4.52]

  4. Black Tie White Noise [4.52]

  5. Jump They Say [4.22]

  6. Nite Flights [4.30]

  7. Pallas Athena [4.40]

  8. Miracle Goodnight [4.14]

  9. Don't Let Me Down & Down [4.55]

  10. Looking For Lester [5.36]

  11. I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday [4.14]

  12. The Wedding Song [4.29]

  13. Jump They Say (Alternate Mix) [3.58] (CD & Cassette Only)

  14. Lucy Can't Dance [5.45] (CD Only)

Bonus tracks on 2003 reissue:

  • Real Cool World [5.25]

  • Lucy Can't Dance [5.48]

  • Jump They Say (Rock Mix) [4.04]

  • Black Tie White Noise (3rd Floor US Radio Mix) [3.40]

  • Miracle Goodnight (Make Believe Mix) [4.28]

  • Don't Let Me Down & Down (Indonesian Vocal Version) [4.53]

  • You've Been Around (Dangers 12" Remix) [7.39]

  • Jump They Say (Brothers In Rhythm 12" Remix) [8.22]

  • Black Tie White Noise (Here Come Da Jazz) [5.32]

  • Pallas Athena (Don't Stop Praying Remix No.2) [7.26]

  • Nite Flights (Moodswings Back To Basics Remix) [9.52]

  • Jump They Say (Dub Oddity) [6.13]

Black Tie White Noise

Released:

  • Arista 74321 13697 1 - April 1993 (LP)

  • Arista 74321 13967 2 - April 1993 (CD)

  • EMI 7243 5 8481402 (7243 5 8333824 / 7243 5 8481327 / 7243 4 9063495) - August 2003 (Limited Edition 10th Anniversary Reissue)

  • EMI 7243 5 833382 - October 2003

  • Parlophone 7243 5 83338 2 4 - 2015

Personnel:

  • David Bowie: Vocals, Guitar, Saxophone, Dog Alto

  • Pugi Bell: Drums

  • Barry Campbell: Bass

  • Sterling Campbell: Drums

  • Nile Rodgers: Guitar

  • Richard Hilton: Keyboards

  • John Regan: Bass

  • Michael Reisman: Harp, Tubular Bells

  • Dave Richards: Keyboards

  • Philippe Saisse: Keyboards

  • Richard Tee: Keyboards

  • Gerado Velez: Percussion

  • Al B Sure!: Vocals on "Black Tie White Noise"

  • Lester Bowie: Trumpet

  • Reeves Gabrels: Guitar on "You've Been Around"

  • Mick Ronson: Guitar on "I Feel Free"

  • Mike Garson: Piano on "Looking For Lester

  • Wild T Springer: Guitar on "I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday"

  • Fonzi Thorton, Tawatha Agee, Curtis King Jr., Denis Collins, Brenda White-King, Maryl Epps, Frank Simms, George Simms, David Spinner, Lamya Al-Mughiery, Connie Petruk, David Bowie, Nile Rodgers: Backing Vocals

Recorded:

  • Mountain Studios, Montreux/38 Fresh Recording Studios & The Hit Factory, New York

Producers:

  • David Bowie, Nile Rodgers

Five days after their marriage in April 1992, David and Iman were in Los Angeles when the city erupted in its worst outbreak of civil unrest since the 1960s. A combination of his marriage and his eyewitness experience of urban America's crucible of racial violence would inspire Bowie's next cycle of songs. Black Tie White Noise was conceived as a fusion of black and white signifiers, a meeting of intellectual and cultural tempos as well as of musical ones. The title track was a response to the Los Angeles riots, while on a calmer note the opening and closing tracks were developments of the music Bowie had composed for the June wedding ceremony in Florence. Other compositions confronted equally personal subjects, notably touching on the death of David's half-brother Terry in "Jump They Say". "I think this album comes from a very different emotional place," he told Rolling Stone. "That's the passing of time, which has brought maturity and a willingness to relinquish full control over my emotions, let them go a bit, start relating to other people, which is something that's been happening to me slowly - and, my God, it's been uphill - over the last ten or twelve years." In an interview for MTV, he was keen to underplay the idea that the album heralded a new optimism. "I hope there's an edge. I don't think it's like a glowing, kind of 'everybody's sailing into the sunset and life will be roses ever after' - I don't think I would ever write an album like that. But it's probably a lot less bleak than some of my previous albums."

 

The title itself was a minor masterpiece. "I think Black Tie White Noise refers to the very obvious," David explained. "The radical boundaries that have been put up in most of the Western world. It also has a lot to do with the black and white sides of one's thinking. I think it goes a little further than simply the racial situation...I think, at this particular moment in time, it's very important to promote the coming together of the disparate elements of any nation, specifically America, where the record was written, but actually, I guess even more so now in Europe." Over and above the album's directly political concerns, the title operates as a multiple pun on Bowie's own musical affiliations and studio techniques. "White noise itself is something that I first encountered on the synthesizer many years ago," he explained. "There's black noise and white noise. I thought that much of what is said and done by the whites is white noise. 'Black tie' is because for me, musically, the one thing that really turned me on to wanting to be a musician, wanting to write, was American black music...for a number of years I worked with rhythm and blues bands, and my participation in them formed my own 'black ties' in that area of music."

 

To co-produce the album Bowie turned again to Nile Rodgers, who had produced Let's Dance ten years earlier, and from the early summer of 1992 recording alternated between Mountain Studios in Montreux and Rodgers's home territory at New York's Hit Factory. The first fruit of the collaboration was the movie theme "Real Cool World", released as a single in August 1992 and prefiguring the sophisticated dancefloor jazz of the forthcoming album.

 

Rodgers was instrumental in adding a state-of-the-art club sheen to the more dance-oriented tracks, but otherwise Black Tie White Noise, in stark contrast with Let's Dance, is dominated not by him but by Bowie. According to Rodgers, David was "a lot more relaxed this time than he was at the Let's Dance sessions, a hell of a lot more philosophical and just in a state of mind where his music was really, really making him happy." The process of harnessing all this positive energy made for a greater challenge: "Let's Dance was the easiest record I've ever made - three weeks in total. Black Tie White Noise was the hardest - one year, more or less." Dramatically colouring these and other contemporary comments, Nile Rodgers later told David Buckley that he did not enjoy making Black Tie White Noise at all, complaining that Bowie dismissed any attempt to repeat the formula of Let's Dance: "I felt my hands were tied to a large extent...I was playing great commercial licks to Bowie, and he was rejecting them almost across the board...When we finished that record, I knew it wasn't cool. I knew it wasn't nearly as cool as Let's Dance. Don't get me wrong. I think there's really clever, interesting stuff on it. But the point is, it ain't as good as Let's Dance...he was not budging. It was an exercise in futility."

 

These sentiments clearly reveal a different set of priorities from Bowie's own. "This time around it was more my vision," David averred in 1993, "And Nile provided the buoyancy and the enthusiasm for the project...If the artist has some quite definite ideas, Nile will roll with those and just help get them activated." This time the outcome was not slick R&B, but a fusion of Middle Eastern melodies, European disco, New York club sounds and freestyle jazz. There are strong echoes of both Station To Station and Low, harnessed throughout to a relentless dance beat.

 

If Nile Rodgers provides the groove, trumpeter Lester Bowie gives the album its essential musical identity. "Throughout the eighties, there was this nagging idea that somewhere in time I wanted to work with Lester on trumpet, and this really was the opportunity," explained David. "He came in to do one track, "Don't Let Me Down & Down", and he was such a blast, he was so great to work with, that we just kept him on!" Lending his fierce, brassy freestyle blowing to a total of six tracks, Lester Bowie (who sadly died in 1999) also provides the perfect foil to his namesake's saxophone work. Black Tie White Noise finds David's sax more strongly to the fore than on any other album, a result of his renewed commitment to the instrument during the preceding Tin Machine tour. "I think David would be the first to admit that he's not a saxophonist in the traditional sense," Rodgers told Rolling Stone. "I mean, you wouldn't call him up to do gigs. He uses his playing as an artistic tool. He's a painter. He hears an idea, and he goes with it. But he absolutely knows where he's going..." The horn arrangements were handled by 70-year-old Afro-Cuban jazz veteran Chico O'Farrill, who had recorded with greats such as Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Kenton and Benny Goodman. Black Tie White Noise marked something of a career renaissance for O'Farrill, who recorded with renewed vigour and even received a Latin Grammy nomination a year before his death in 2001.

 

The title track's guest vocal by Al B Sure!, who had previously enjoyed a few minor hits in collaboration with Barry White and Quincy Jones, sets the seal on the album's streetwise black posture. However, it was the presence of two other guests that drew the greatest attention. Providing instrumental solos on "Looking For Lester" and "I Feel Free" respectively were pianist Mike Garson - last heard on Young Americans - and guitarist Mick Ronson, making his first appearance on a Bowie album since Pin Ups. The presence of the two ex-Spiders and the return of Nile Rodgers led some critics to conclude that Bowie was disowning his recent career and attempting to set the clock back by recording the album that Let's Dance always should have been. There's certainly no shortage of surreptitious referencing to Bowie's pre-Let's Dance career. The notion of opening and closing the album with variants of the same composition is a direct throwback to Scary Monsters. One of David's new drummers, former Duran Duran sessioner Sterling Campbell, had been a teenage pupil of Bowie's veteran percussionist Dennis Davis, who dropped in to visit during the New York sessions. And in different ways, two of the album's cover versions, "I Feel Free" and "I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday", hark back to the Ziggy era.

 

But Black Tie White Noise is by no means a clean break with everything post-1983; it has half an eye on Bowie's more recent past, showcasing several talents previously heard on his less admired 1980s recordings: several of the backing vocalists hail from the Let's Dance and Labyrinth sessions, and there are reappearances by Never Let Me Down's Philippe Saisse and David Richards. Indeed, the retro-imagery of Nick Knight's inlay photography, depicting Bowie in shirt-sleeves and Bogey hat, clutching a 1940s microphone, comes straight from the video of "Never Let Me Down". Reeves Gabrels guests on "You've Been Around", itself a rejected Tin Machine composition. As ever, Black Tie White Noise is a synthesis of old and new; what's different is that for the first time in a decade, the alchemy is just about right.

 

Black Tie White Noise heralded yet another new record label: during the sessions Bowie signed a contract with BMG, affiliated with Arista and the small American label Savage, enthusing about the artistic freedom he had been guaranteed. "David Nemran of Savage Records...encouraged me to do exactly what I wanted to do, without any kind of indication that it would be manipulated, or that my ideas would be changed, or that other things would be required of me," said David. "That made me feel comfortable and that was the deciding factor." In turn, the Savage chairman declared that Bowie was "absolutely the artist to break the label wide open...He's everything that I would use to describe us."

 

The album arrived in a blaze of publicity and, in the UK at least, an immensely favourable climate afforded by the explosion of 'Britpop'. Bands like Blur, The Auteurs and in particular the brilliant Suede were openly acknowledging their debt to Bowie, not only in interviews (Brett Anderson's soundbite about being "a bisexual man who's never had a homosexual experience" was a self-conscious repackage of Bowie's famous 1972 outing, and was equally successful in courting publicity), but also in their blatantly referential post-glam singles and live acts. In the run-up to the releases of Black Tie White Noise and, a week earlier, Suede's eponymous debut, the NME pulled off the coup of introducing David to Brett for a double interview in which the two singers discussed influences and exchanged compliments (Bowie: "Your playing and your songwriting's so good that I know you're going to be working in music for quite some time". Anderson: "Lots of things that we rip you off for like, well, specifically like the octave lower vocals and things like that, I just love what it does to the song, how it makes it darker"). The mutual appreciation benefited, in different ways, the credibility of both. Suede's music continued to pay homage to Bowie: their second album, released eighteen months later, was named Dog Man Star after three of his classic early LPs, while 1999's Head Music plundered the art-rock territory of Scary Monsters and included tracks called "Elephant Man" and "She's In Fashion".

 

In March 1993 the preview single "Jump They Say" was released in an array of formats featuring numerous remixes by fashionable producers like Brothers In Rhythm and Leftfield, setting a precedent that would prevail for most of Bowie's singles during the 1990s. "Jump They Say" became Bowie's biggest hit in seven years, and the good omens continued with his best reviews in a decade. "Black Tie White Noise is an album which picks up where Scary Monsters left off in 1980, and if any collection of songs could reinstate his godhead status, this is it," declared Q, adding that the album was full of "imagination and charm", with a title track "as heartfelt and socially relevant as anything Bowie has recorded." Billboard considered the album "trail-blazing and brilliant", boasting "inspired covers" and "echoes of Let's Dance, Scary Monsters and Ziggy Stardust." Vox was more cautious with the praise, admitting that the "radio-friendly pillage of Bowie's musical history" was "both well-timed and familiar enough to re-establish his commercial appeal" and that Bowie's sax playing "doesn't quite top the bizarre foghorn sounds he produced on "Heroes", but its bent, ethnic-sounding notes create the album's most atmospheric moments."

 

The album was released on April 5th 1993 in a variety of formats. The vinyl LP lacked the final two tracks, while the Japanese CD boasted "Pallas Athena (Don't Stop Praying Mix)" as a third bonus track, and buyers of the Singaporean CD were treated to an otherwise unavailable Indonesian version of "Don't Let Me Down & Down". Sales were spectacular in Britain, where Black Tie White Noise entered the album chart at number 1, deposing Suede in the process. The news from America was not so good: in June 1993 Savage Records went into liquidation, severely curtailing the album's distribution in America and several other territories. It peaked at number 39 in the US chart before becoming temporarily unavailable. Savage filed for bankruptcy and even attempted to sue Bowie and BMG to recover funds, although the case was dismissed.

 

Nor was this the only blow to the album's commercial potential. "Jump They Say" was an exceptional song and deservedly a top ten hit, but few who heard the album could believe that the immensely catchy "Miracle Goodnight" - a potential international smash if ever there was one - had been passed over as the debut single. Furthermore, Bowie declined to take the new material on tour ("It takes up so much time...I really want to involve myself in my own life again"), instead of releasing the Black Tie White Noise video shot in May 1993. The only other promotional outings for the album were a pair of appearances on American television in the same month. Bearing in mind that his next studio ventures would see a marked swing away from the commercial, it's instructive to note that later in the year Bowie turned down a request to perform on MTV's Unplugged. They required the greatest hits; he firmly declined.

 

In August 2003 EMI released a beautifully packaged three-disc tenth anniversary edition of Black Tie White Noise, comprising the original album, a bonus CD of remixes and rare tracks (including such delights as "Real Cool World", the Indonesian "Don't Let Me Down & Down" and several promo-only remixes, but not the "Alternate Mix" of "Jump They Say" that had featured on the original CD), and an accompanying DVD of 1993's Black Tie White Noise video. A standard single-disc reissue of the album followed in October 2003.

 

Whereas many Bowie albums have been undervalued in their day and only later rehabilitated, it seems with hindsight that Black Tie White Noise was, if anything, over-praised at the time of its release. It's a supremely confident, professional and commercial piece of work, and its best moments are exceptional; without a doubt, it was, at the time, Bowie's finest record since Scary Monsters. But although it was a massive and exhilarating step in the right direction, there were far better things to come. Even before the album was released Bowie had begun working on a forthcoming soundtrack project, and despite making the occasional claim that his next plan was to revive Tin Machine, he was, in fact, heading for new territory once again. The full-scale artistic renaissance was just around the corner.