Black Tie White Noise found David Bowie looking back at his own history, not least on ‘You’ve Been Around’, with its war cry “Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-change!” Unlike on Let’s Dance, which made a clean break with the past, he brought back several former collaborators, one of whom hadn’t appeared on a Bowie record for two decades.
On the cover version of Cream’s ‘I Feel Free’ he recorded with Spiders From Mars guitarist Mick Ronson for the first time since 1973’s Pinups, following their April 1992 reunion at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert at Wembley Stadium.
Another member of the Spiders From Mars returning to the fold was pianist Mike Garson, who played on ‘Looking For Lester’. Garson had played on the studio albums Aladdin Sane, Pinups, Diamond Dogs, and Young Americans, and went on to perform on The Buddha Of Suburbia, 1.Outside, Earthling, and Reality, as well as becoming a core member of Bowie’s touring band.
A more recent collaborator making a return was Reeves Gabrels, the Tin Machine guitarist who later played on 1.Outside, Earthling, and ‘hours…’. Gabrels played lead guitar on ‘You’ve Been Around’, a Tin Machine reject which he co-wrote with Bowie.
In 1988, I received a call from Duran Duran to tour and eventually join the band. That’s where I met Nile. We stayed in touch, and after my time with Duran Duran ended in 1993, I received the call: Nile wanted to know if I was available to do David Bowie’s new album Black Tie White Noise. I was over the moon!
My first meeting with David was wonderful. I was finally meeting my hero and he was so inviting, smiling; he seemed excited to make a new album. He basically had demos of new songs and it was pretty simple: play. He didn’t yet know I was from the school of Dennis Davis. I studied both David’s music and Dennis’s drumming. So I did me, but added some sprinkles of Dennis. David and Nile seemed pleased with the results.
The Epoch Times, 15 January 2016
The title track ‘Black Tie White Noise’ was a rare Bowie duet, with producer and singer Al B. Sure! (Albert Joseph Brown III). Bowie also shared the spotlight with jazz trumpeter Lester Bowie on ‘You’ve Been Around’, ‘Jump They Say’, ‘Pallas Athena’, ‘Don’t Let Me Down & Down’, and ‘Looking for Lester’.
Bowie played more saxophone on Black Tie White Noise than on any other album. There were further horn arrangements by Chico O’Farrill, and some fierce and thrilling trumpet duels with Lester Bowie.
I think David would be the first to admit that he’s not a saxophonist in the traditional sense. 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, because he damn well plays the same thing over and over again until I say, ‘Well, I guess he hears that.’ It’s what you might call accidentally deliberate.
Rolling Stone, 10 June 1993
The photography for Black Tie White Noise was by Nick Knight.
The original concept was for a photographic portrait of Bowie, which would be mirrored down the middle. The front cover was to have depicted two right-hand sides of Bowie’s face, with the mirrored left-hand side on the back cover.
The concept was inspired by Bowie’s distinctive eyes, one of which had a permanently dilated pupil, as a result of a teenage fight with George Underwood. Yet although the cover was prepared, it was abandoned in favour of a different shot by Knight.
Other images from the shoot were also used in the LP’s inner sleeve and CD booklet. Bowie wore a Humphrey Bogart-style fedora hat and held a 1950s microphone, a curious throwback to the era of Absolute Beginners. The retro feel was continued with Knight’s artful photographs of saxophones and trumpets.