The background

David Bowie had married the Somalia-born supermodel Iman – Zara Mohamed Abdulmajid – in Lausanne on 24 April 1992.

Their secret wedding was followed by a more public celebration in Florence, Italy, on 6 June, which was attended by celebrities including Brian Eno, Bono, Eric Idle and Yoko Ono.

It was like starting out all over. And I really wasn’t looking for another relationship. But then over dinner I met Iman.

We were brought together by a mutual friend who thought we would get on very well. We were wary of each other but the attraction was mutual right from the beginning. She had also gone through a broken marriage and wasn’t looking for a permanent relationship.

But so much of what we shared was similar. We had both achieved success. We knew the same people throughout the world. We both had children. A year and a half later we got married.

David Bowie
Arena, Spring/Summer 1993

In between those events, the newlyweds took a honeymoon in Los Angeles, in which they also went house-hunting. There they witnessed the LA riots, a week of civil unrest in response to the LAPD arresting, tasering and violently beating a black man, Rodney King. The experience directly inspired ‘Black Tie White Noise’, the title track of the album.

We were standing on the roof of out apartment block, hand-in-hand, looking out at these fires starting up everywhere. And they were close! it was unbelievable. If it hadn’t been so frightening, you could have looked out and said ‘Cor, dunnit look like Blade Runner?’ But we thought, ‘Oh shit, we’re in this’ and we did the same thing that everybody else did – we got in the car and went down the supermarket and started buying food, because we didn’t know if we’d be able to get out of there for a few days.

And I stayed up all night the second night because they were getting quite close to our block.

David Bowie
NME, 27 March 1993

Bowie also reached back to his personal history. The lead single ‘Jump They Say’ was inspired by his brother Terry Burns’ suicide on 16 January 1985. Another song on the album, Cream’s ‘I Feel Free’, held personal significance for Bowie, as he explained to the New Musical Express.

‘Jump They Say’ is semi-based on my impression of my step-brother and probably, for the first time, trying to write about how I felt about him committing suicide. It’s also connected to my feeling that sometimes I’ve jumped metaphysically into the unknown and wondering whether I really believed there was something out there to support me, whatever you wanna call it; a God or a life-force? It’s an impressionist piece – it doesn’t have an obvious, cohesive narrative storyline to it, apart from the fact that the protagonist in the song scales a spire and leaps off.

There’s also a personal reason why I cover Creams’s ‘I Feel Free’ on the album. One of the times I actually went out with my step-brother, I took him to see a Cream concert in Bromley, and about halfway through – and I’d like to think it was during ‘I Feel Free’ – he started feeling very, very bad… He used to see visions a lot. And I remember I had to take him out of the club because it was really starting to affect him – he was swaying… He’d never heard anything so loud; he was ten years older then me and he’d never been to a rock club, because jazz was his thing when he was young. He turned me on to Eric Dolphy…

Anyway, we got out into the street and he collapsed on the ground and he said the ground was opening up and there was fire and stuff pouring out the pavement, and I could almost see it for him, because he was explaining it so articulately. So the two songs are close together on the album for very personal reasons.

So much of this album comes from a more emotional plane than I’m wont to generally show about myself. It’s a very emotionally-charged album. There’s a lot of jumping into the unknown about it. Maybe a lot of my negative things have surfaced on this album, that’s why it’s got such a saccharine ending. It’s called ‘The Wedding Song’, but it should have been called ‘The Wedding Cake’, because it really is all icing with a couple on top.

David Bowie
NME, 27 March 1993

By 1993 Bowie had swung back into fashion, at least in Britain. The burgeoning Britpop movement had brought guitar pop and a certain English aesthetic back into the mainstream. A mix of flag-waving bombast and art-school pretension, it reflected the country’s new-found confidence in its creative powers.

Prior to the arrival of Oasis it was led by indie groups including Suede, Blur, Elastica and Pulp, whose songwriting shared a tendency towards stories about everyday humdrum lives and loves. Bowie was a hero to many of the new breed, just as he had been in the glam and new romantic eras.

Suede were die-hard acolytes of Bowie who paid homage in their image, melodies and lyrics. Indeed, their debut album begins with the words “Because we’re young”, an intended echo of Bowie’s 1980 song ‘Because You’re Young’.

The time was ripe, therefore, for a renaissance. On 27 March 1993, the NME published a joint interview with Bowie and Suede’s singer Brett Anderson, in which the veteran singer put forward Black Tie White Noise as a successor to Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps).

When I delivered Low I got a telegram offering to pay for me to go back to Sigma Sound in Philadelphia to do another Young Americans. They just couldn’t accept Low, they couldn’t understand it. That’s when I knew it was over with that particular company. And that’s why it’s so psychic that I should come back to Arista, within the RCA association, for this album. In my mind, it’s almost as though I lost Let’s Dance, Tonight and Never Let Me Down and, if I was putting together sets of albums, I would go Low, “Heroes”, Lodger, Scary Monsters, Black Tie White Noise. It kinda slots in there in feel. And, of course, my last album with RCA was Scary Monsters, so the EMI years are this misfit that kinda got in there somehow. Maybe this is the album that Nile Rodgers and I did make in 1983, and there’s been this timewarp ever since!
David Bowie
NME, 27 March 1993