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Best Of A Bad Bunch - "Under The God"

It is pretty rare for an artist to have a sustained career without at least one barren period with a lack of commercial success, critical or fan acclaim. Some may only have one golden moment, and then struggle to hit the heights ever again. That doesn't mean that all they produce in those "lost" years is without merit.

Go here for part one featuring Neil Young.

I'm going to look at some of my favourite songs from these lesser known or ill regarded periods, continuing with a man who has had more than one period of both acclaimed and berated music, David Bowie.

Bowie had one of the greatest, in my opinion, runs of combined commercial and critical success from "Hunky Dory" in 1971 to "Let's Dance" in 1983. I'd accept the argument that you could include "The Man Who Sold The World"  at the start of the list, but for me it is with Hunky Dory that Bowie's golden run started. In that run, only stop gap covers collection, "Pin Ups" could be considered unessential. 

After hitting his commercial peak in 1983, the quality took a nose dive with "Tonight" and "Never Let Me Down". After the bloated "Glass Spider" tour in concluded, Bowie was at his creative and critical nadir. For the first time he was since the early 1970s he was chasing the zeitgeist rather than being at its zenith.

His answer was to form a band. A band of equals in a creative sense, if not in terms of stardom. Crucially not a new backing band, but a band that just happened to have David Bowie as their lead singer. The arguments about how realistic a prospect this was can be had, and I tend to agree that it was an exercise in futility from one point of view. Once you reach a certain level of stardom and with a big enough body of work behind you, it is impossible to 'just' be the singer in a band. 

Wings being exhibit A in this case. Sure they weren't billed a 'Paul McCartney & Wings' but in the mind of the vast majority of fans attending their concerts or buying their records they were just that. Unless you are forming a super-group, then a Beatle or David Bowie will always draw more attention than their band-mates however hard they try to fight it.

Anyway on to the music. 

A shock to those expecting more pop, "Tin Machine" was aggressive, loud and angry. None more so than on lead single "Under The God". I remember the video generating some controversy at the time, along with the somewhat prescient subject matter.

Going back and listening to it again, it still rocks just as hard. Reeves Gabrels guitar histrionics still cut through and the Hunt brothers rhythm section pounds whilst Bowie is clearly having a ball. The 2 albums the band produced were not classics, but were better than either of Bowie's two previous solo works. "Under The God" though stands out for me, and the project clearly got Bowie his mojo back, something he acknowledged himself on more than one occasion.

He may have never hit the heights, or been at the cutting edge in the way he had been through the 1970s and early 1980s again but I both grateful that Tin Machine existed for itself as well as the effect it had as a reset button on Bowie's career.

"One step over the red line..."

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