The release

Tin Machine was released on 22 May 1989.

The compact disc edition contained two songs – ‘Run’ and ‘Sacrifice Yourself’ – not on the vinyl version. ‘Run’ was credited to David Bowie and Kevin Armstrong, while ‘Sacrifice Yourself’ was by Bowie and the Sales brothers.

Much of David Bowie’s Eighties output had been synth-heavy, following the major stylistic trends in pop music. With Tin Machine, meanwhile, he was able to tap into the emerging underground alt-rock scene.

I think the first album was important as it was sort of a proto-grunge album. David was listening to bands like Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr and the Pixies, but none of those bands had broken into the top 20 US albums. Tin Machine I think opened the door to some of the more chaotic-sounding guitar bands. This, to me, was at least the most vital Bowie album for some time. People seemed to either love it or hate it. At least we got a strong reaction.
Tim Palmer
Strange Fascination, David Buckley

Upon Tin Machine’s release, Bowie heralded the album as a creative rebirth, and a realigning of his artistic vision.

It’s hard without sounding phony. I love it. This, for me, is kind of like catching up from Scary Monsters. It’s almost dismissive of the last three albums I’ve done. Getting back on course, you could say.
David Bowie
Q magazine, June 1989

He did, however, note that it wouldn’t be universally welcomed.

There’s going to be a whole bunch of people who’ll say it’s just not accessible. I guess it’s not as obviously melodic as one would think it would probably be. I don’t know. We don’t know…

I’ve never been worried about losing fans. I just haven’t bothered to put that into practice recently. My strength has always been that I never gave a shit about what people thought of what I was doing. I’d be prepared to completely change from album to album and ostracise everybody that may have been pulled in to the last album. That didn’t ever bother me one iota. I’m sort of back to that again.

David Bowie
Q magazine, June 1989

Tin Machine was greeted with broadly positive reviews, and reached number three on the UK album chart. It went top ten in Norway and Sweden, and top 40 in Austria, the Netherlands and New Zealand.

In later years, however, the Tin Machine period was seen as something of an aberration; an artistic nadir devoid of much musical merit. The band went on to record a follow-up, 1991’s Tin Machine II, and the following year issued Tin Machine Live: Oy Vey, Baby.

There’ll be another two albums at least. Oh, yes, this will go for a while. While we’re all enjoying playing with each other so much, why not? The moment we stop enjoying it, we’re all prepared to quit. I’m so up on this I want to go and start recording the next album tomorrow.
David Bowie
Q magazine, June 1989

Tin Machine was reissued in 1995 by Virgin Records with the bonus track ‘Country Bus Stop’. This was a country and western version of ‘Bus Stop’, sometimes known as ‘Live Country Version’, recorded in Paris during Tin Machine’s 1989 world tour.

Although Tin Machine was intended as a band endeavour, subsequent reissues have credited the album to Bowie alone.

The legacy

Just as Berlin had given Bowie a new artistic impetus in the late Seventies, so it was for Tin Machine in the Eighties. Despite the crudeness of many of their songs, the band showed Bowie that he could have a future in music without pandering to trends or label demands.

That was a bizarre project, but I’m really glad we did it. I mean, what Reeves Gabrels and I got out of it was a whole set of instructions about what we wanted and didn’t want to do.
David Bowie
Modern Drummer, July 1997

In his later years, Bowie stressed the importance of Tin Machine for him as an performer, and the vitality he found in their work.

I love Tin Machine! I’m a huge fan. I really rate a lot of that work. At least 50 per cent of what we did was good. It was exciting stuff and some of it, in its way, was reasonably innovative. There wasn’t much around that sounded like it at the time. There was something in the air that I just felt, This is what the world is like right now. It felt like that. But there were such volatile personalities in that band, you never knew from night to night how it would go. There was nothing you could depend on. Somebody would be out of their minds, not be able to play – or even turn up in some cases. But when we were ‘on’ it was incredible.

And audiences loved that band. Outside is a really popular album with my lot, they love it, but I’m telling you, the audiences for Tin Machine had the greatest nights. When it was bad it sucked a big one, but that’s what that band was all about. It was a terrific experience and really made me feel good, because now I felt I could make decisions about what I wanted to do over the coming years. There was nowhere to hide with that band. We had everything against us – and it was good!

David Bowie
The Word, October 2003