Cover artwork

The cover of Tin Machine II was illustrated by Edward Bell, who had worked on Bowie’s album Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) and its singles.

Bell and Bowie had become reacquainted in 1989 following a chance meeting in Venice. Bowie commissioned Bell to create the artwork for Tin Machine II, and the artist spent time with the band in Los Angeles.

Bell produced a charcoal sketch of four kouroi – free-standing Greek statues. In ancient Greek, kouros means “youth, boy, especially of noble rank”, and were frequently athletic in stature. The statues were typically life-size, though early examples were up to three metres tall.

The kouroi on Tin Machine II were nude, with their genitals clearly visible. Rather than risk the ire of retailers, the cover was censored in the United States.

Bowie toyed with the idea of allowing US fans to write to the record company to request the censored images, “then they could paste them back on. But the label freaked out at the idea,” he told CREEM magazine. “Sending genitals through the mail is a serious offense.”

The release

In the early 1990s, David Bowie’s back catalogue was remastered and reissued with bonus tracks by EMI/Rykodisc, to coincide with the Sound + Vision tour.

Tin Machine II was released in September 1991, just weeks after Bowie’s classic albums Low, “Heroes” and Lodger were reissued.

The comparisons were not kind to Tin Machine, although some reviewers were supportive. In the main, however, impressions were negative.

I’m sure there will be a lot of doubters. It comes with the territory. I’m a big boy, and I find myself less and less interested with how I’m perceived anyway. I’m much more concerned these days with how I feel. I think the only way to work through all that confusion is to keep working.
David Bowie
Rolling Stone, 31 October 1991

The first single, released ahead of Tin Machine II, was ‘You Belong In Rock N’ Roll’. Despite an extensive promotional campaign, including appearances on the BBC shows Top Of The Pops and Wogan, the single peaked at number 33 in the UK charts. It was, nonetheless, the band’s biggest hit single.

Tin Machine II fared not much better upon its 2 September 1991 release, reaching number 23 in the UK but climbing no further than 126 in the US. It was Bowie’s first album in two decades not to reach the UK top 20.

Sadly, most of the bands that we love don’t sell dick. Right now I’m excited more by bands like the Pixies than anything at the top of the charts. We’re making the music we want to make and still manage to sell a lot more records compared to a lot of bands.
David Bowie
Rolling Stone, 31 October 1991

Tin Machine took the album on the road, playing mid-sized venues in North America, Europe and Japan on the seven-month It’s My Life tour. The final date was in Tokyo on 17 February 1992, after which Tin Machine never again performed together.

The live shows followed Bowie’s hugely successful Sound + Vision tour, which saw him playing stadiums worldwide. The smaller scale of the It’s My Life tour brought home Tin Machine’s far smaller commercial reach – an instance of pop royalty slumming it.

We saw the place where we’re playing during sound check earlier today. And the thing is there are tables in there. I’m not sure if I really know how to play a room with tables.
David Bowie
Rolling Stone, 31 October 1991

A second single, ‘Baby Universal’, failed to make the UK top 40, and ‘One Shot’ – re-recorded by Hugh Padgham to give the band a hit – was not even released in the UK or US.

‘Baby Universal’ was performed by Bowie in 1996 during the Outside tour. It was re-recorded for his Earthling album, but left off in favour of a last-minute recording, ‘The Last Thing You Should Do’.