Originally titled “the wedding album,” Bowie’s first solo record since Never Let Me Down was inspired by his 1992 marriage to supermodel Iman Abdulmajid. “I think this album comes from a very different emotional place,” Bowie told Rolling Stone. “That’s the passing of time, which has brought maturity and a willingness to relinquish full control over my emotions.”
Bowie enlisted Let’s Dance mastermind Nile Rodgers to co-produce an eclectic album featuring covers of Morrissey, Scott Walker and Cream, a duet with R&B singer Al B. Sure! and an appearance by innovative jazz trumpeter Lester Bowie. The singer also brought on Spiders From Mars vets Mick Ronson and Mike Garson, who worked with him for the first time in almost 20 years.
Black Tie White Noise married the personal with the political. The title track was inspired by the 1992 L.A. riots, which took place the same day Iman and Bowie were in the city house-hunting – “I’m lookin’ through African eyes/Lit by the glare of an L.A. fire,” he sang. “It’s very important to promote the coming together of disparate elements of any nation, specifically America,” Bowie said.
Bowie worked on the album for a whole year, shifting between Switzerland and New York. It would be the longest single session of his career, ultimately yielding a blend of Euro-disco, techno rock, freestyle jazz, Middle Eastern riffs and hip-hop. “I was trying to turn it into a very commercial piece of work,” Rodgers says today. “He was trying to make this artistic statement about this period in his life.”
Bowie did both of those things on the poignant “Jump They Say,” a song about the 1985 suicide of his half brother, Terry, that went Top 10 on the U.S. dance charts. “I feel a lot freer these days to be able to talk about myself and about what’s happened to me,” Bowie said. “For many years, everything was always blocked out.”