'hours...'

  1. Thursday's Child [5.24]

  2. Something In The Air [5.46]

  3. Survive [4.11]

  4. If I'm Dreaming My Life [7.04]

  5. Seven [4.04]

  6. What's Really Happening? [4.10]

  7. The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell [4.40]

  8. New Angels Of Promise [4.35]

  9. Brilliant Adventure [1.54]

  10. The Dreamers [5.14]

Bonus tracks on 2004 reissue:

  • Thursday's Child (Rock Mix) [4.27]

  • Thursday's Child (Omikron:The Nomad Soul Slower Version) [5.32]

  • Something In The Air (American Psycho Remix) [6.01]

  • Survive (Marius De Vries Mix) [4.18]

  • Seven (Demo Version) [4.05]

  • Seven (Marius De Vries Mix) [ 4.12]

  • Seven (Beck Mix #1) [3.44]

  • Seven (Beck Mix #2) [5.11]

  • The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell (Edit) [3.59]

  • The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell (Stigmata Film Version) [4.46]

  • The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell (Stigmata Film Only Version) [3.58]

  • New Angels Of Promise (Omikron: The Nomad Soul Version) [4.37]

  • The Dreamers (Omikron: The Nomad Soul Longer Version) [5.39]

  • 1917 [3.27]

  • We Shall Go To Town [3.56]

  • We All Go Through [4.09]

  • No One Calls [3.51]

'hours...'

Released:

  • Virgin CDVX 2900 - October 1999 (Lenticular Sleeve)

  • Virgin CDV 2900 - October 1999

  • Columbia 511936 2 - September 2003

  • Columbia 511936 9 - September 2004 (2CD Limited Edition)

  • Music On Vinyl MOVLP 1400 - June 2015

Personnel:

  • David Bowie: Vocals, Keyboards, Acoustic Guitar, Roland 707 Drum Programming

  • Reeves Gabrels: Guitars, Drum Loops, Synth & Drum Programming

  • Mark Plati: Bass, Guitar/Synth & Drum Programming, Mellotron on "Survive"

  • Mike Levesque: Drums

  • Sterling Campbell: Drums on "Seven", "New Angels Of Promise", "The Dreamers"

  • Chris Haskett: Rhythm Guitar on "If I'm Dreaming My Life"

  • Everett Bradley: Percussion on "Seven"

  • Marcus Salisbury: Bass on "New Angels Of Promise"

  • Holly Palmer: Backing Vocals on "Thursday's Child"

Recorded:

  • Seaview Studios, Bermuda/Looking Glass & Chung King Studios, New York

Producers:

  • David Bowie/Reeves Gabrels

Despite Bowie's decisive rejection of the commercial mainstream in the mid-1990s, by the time the Earthling tour came to an end, his personal fortune had reached a new peak. During 1997 the papers were full of stories about his asset flotation, referred to by the tabloids as 'Bowie Bonds'. The scheme involved David staking the royalties on his back catalogue as security against a loan of $55 million, to be repaid over an agreed period after which the royalty rights would revert to him (as indeed they did in September 2007, ten years later). Prudential Securities purchased all the 'Bowie Bonds' on the opening day of sale; it was the first such deal struck by a rock musician, establishing a precedent followed by artists such as Elton John.

 

Also in 1997, Bowie resold his back catalogue to EMI for a reported advance of $28.5 million, paving the way for yet another reissue programme which would begin with EMI's Best Of...CDs before moving on to the albums proper in the autumn of 1999. Bowie spent some of his new-found funds buying out a share of the publishing rights retained by his former manager Tony Defries. Other investments meant that by the end of the 1990s he was routinely appearing in the upper reaches of speculative lists of the entertainment industry's wealthiest figures.

 

In 1998 David retreated from the limelight to devote his attention to a number of new ventures: his fine-art publishing company 21, film roles in Everybody Loves Sunshine, Il Mio West and Mr Rice's Secret, and the establishment of his ISP BowieNet. The year was not without its musical endeavours: he mixed the Earthling tour album eventually released two years later as liveandwell.com, recorded "A Foggy Day In London Town" for the Red Hot + Rhapsody charity CD, and the most exciting news was that he had patched up his differences with producer Tony Visconti; in August the two entered the studio for the first time in 17 years.

 

Much of late 1998 was spent working on new compositions with Reeves Gabrels in Bermuda, which for a short time in the late 1990s was Bowie's residence and base of operations (in 1995 he had sold the Mustique house he had owned for a decade, while in May 1998 the press reported that his Lausanne residence was on the market for 4.5 million Swiss francs). The duo began amassing a stockpile of coherent songs - rather than studio experiments - in a manner Bowie had seldom done since the mid-1980s. Demos were recorded on guitar or, in the case of "Thursday's Child" and "The Dreamers", on keyboards. "There was very little experimentation in the studio," David explained. "A lot of it was just straightforward songwriting. I enjoy that; I still like working that way." Reeves Gabrels was about to become the first Bowie collaborator to share the songwriting credits throughout an entire album. "I think we just agreed to do that," David explained, "and he certainly didn't blanch at it!"

 

At the beginning of 1999, the two spent some time in London and at the George V Hotel in Paris, writing and demoing material for the Eidos Interactive computer game Omikron: The Nomad Soul. The Paris-based company's invitation to provide soundtrack material for the game would provide the springboard for the album sessions proper, and eight of the songs on 'hours...' would also be included in Omikron. Gabrels later explained that the requirements of the Omikron project influenced the style of the new songs: "Firstly, we sat down and wrote songs with just guitar and keyboard before going into a studio. Secondly, the characters we appear as in the game, performing the songs, are street/protest singers and so needed a more singer-songwriter approach. And lastly, it was the opposite approach from the usual cheesy industrial metal music one would normally get."

 

February and March saw Bowie's live collaborations with Placebo in London and New York, where he also recorded his contribution to the Placebo single "Without You I'm Nothing". At around the same time he was asked to produce both Marilyn Manson and Red Hot Chili Peppers, but by now he was too busy to consider either offer.

 

In the spring Bowie and Gabrels entered Seaview Studios in Bermuda to begin recording. In May, a month before the album was officially announced, David told reporters that he and Gabrels had "been writing enormous amounts of material for several months" - as many as 100 songs, many of them in an acoustic vein. "We're recording most of the stuff ourselves," he said, "and Reeves and I are playing most of the instruments and programming drums, etc. But I think you'll be surprised at the actual intimacy of it all." Gabrels would later reveal that three songs - "Survive", "We All Go Through" and "The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell" - were originally intended for his 1999 solo album Ulysses (della notte). He also explained that "Because the album was taking a decidedly more introspective turn, it meant that I needed to approach the guitar-playing in a different way in order to wrap around the vocals and support the mood of the song in the solos. As co-writer and co-producer I had to be extra careful that the guitar player in me was responding to the lyric content of the songs."

 

For the album sessions Bowie recalled Earthling's Mark Plati and 1.Outside's Sterling Campbell, but otherwise 'hours...' featured a clutch of newcomers. Mike Levesque of Dave Navarro's band provided most of the percussion while Chris Haskett, formerly of The Rollins Band, played guest guitar on "If I'm Dreaming My Life".

 

Much attention had already been given to "What's Really Happening?", a Bowie/Gabrels composition whose lyric was completed by Alex Grant, winner of BowieNet's 'cyber-song' contest. With a backing track already laid down in Bermuda, the vocal and instrumental overdubs were added at New York's Looking Glass Studios on May 24th 1999. A remixed version of another track, "The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell", was destined for inclusion in the film Stigmata, whose incidental score was being masterminded by Mike Garson and Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins.

 

After the left-field extremities of 1.Outside and Earthling, the new work marked a conscious return to more traditional elements of songwriting. The acoustic textures and conventional melodic sensibilities led to pre-release rumours that 'hours...' might be considered a successor to Hunky Dory. David avoided such comparisons but agreed that retrospection was a keynote. "I wanted to capture a kind of universal angst felt by many people of my age," he explained. "You could say that I am attempting to write some songs for my generation." The album finds Bowie embarking on an exploration of memory, dreams and relationships with a frankness unparalleled since the 1970s; a recurring motif is a melancholy conflict between how things are and how things might have been. "The 'what if?' approach to life has always been such a part of my personal mythology," David told Uncut, "and it's always been easy for me to fantasise a parallel existence, with far more use than we've made of them, really. I'm quite Jungian about that. The dream state is a strong, potent force in our lives...That other life, that doppelganger life, is actually a dark thing for me. I don't find a sense of freedom in dreams; they're not an escape mechanism. In there, I'm usually, 'Oh, I gotta get outta this place!' The darker place. So that's why I much, much prefer to stay awake." He revealed that the album's original title had been The Dreamers, an idea quashed when Reeves Gabrels asked, "As in Freddie And...?".

 

Accordingly "Something In The Air" and "Survive" both dissect old relationships that have turned sour, while "If I'm Dreaming My Life" and "Seven" are both riven with doubt about the persistence and reliability of memory. "What's Really Happening?", "The Dreamers" and "The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell" consider the impotence of age beneath the weight of personal history. What's surprising, though, is the album's sense of optimism. Whereas the relentless tread of 'time' and the pitiless advance of 'tomorrow' were totems of anxiety in Bowie's early work, 'hours...' achieves at least a partial sense of reconciliation with the inevitable. "Thursday's Child" banishes 'regret' with its stoic plea to "throw me tomorrow/seeing my past to let it go".

 

Integral to this newly philosophical streak is the fact that 'hours...' is shot through with the most overt religious imagery of any Bowie album to date. The oblique spiritualism of Earthling is still in evidence, but the sheer amount of Christian iconography is unparalleled except perhaps by "Word On A Wing" - a song David chose to resurrect for live performances in 1999. The album contains paraphrases from the Bible and even the poetry of John Donne. There are countless references to life and death, heaven and hell, 'gods', 'hymns' and 'angels'. Most obvious of all is the title itself: Bowie explained that 'hours...' was "about reflecting back on the time that one's lived, and how long one has left to live. Also, it's about shared experience, so there's the obvious double punning of 'ours'." The Book of Hours is the medieval prayer book which separates the day into the Horae, canonical hours to which are allocated devotions, readings and hymns. That this particular collection of devotions is both 'hours' and 'ours' reflects Bowie's conviction that "A belief system is merely a personal support system really. It's up to me to construct one that isn't carved in stone, that may change overnight. My songs do that."

 

Another delve into Christian symbolism is the sleeve photograph. It depicts not one but two Bowies, articulating the album's dialogue between past and present selves but also creating a deliberate echo of La Pieta, the image of the Virgin cradling the dead Christ which is a staple of medieval and Renaissance art (and is one of the Stations of the Cross, the formal Passion tableaux which provided the basis of "Station To Station"). A long-haired and vaguely angelic-looking Bowie cradles his former self (goatee beard, spiky Earthling hair and all), suggesting not only a new musical incarnation but, perhaps, a requiem for another closing phase of life and career. "I was inspired by La Pieta," David confirmed, "but since I didn't want to wear a dress anymore, we made it a man. It can be visualised as life and death, past and present." Meanwhile, the back cover recalls medieval images of the Fall of Man: a trio of Bowie's echo Adam, Eve and the central figure of God, while a serpent writhes centre stage. Thus the bookends of 'hours...' suggests Fall and Redemption, constants in every belief system and certainly in Bowie's.

 

The sleeve was photographed by Tim Bret Day at Big Sky Studios in Ladbroke Grove, where another elaborate set-up, this time depicting Bowie burning on a crucifix, was also completed. "We shot Bowie and then made a dummy of him and set the whole thing alight," explained Bret Day later. "Lee Stewart did the rest in post-production. It's the whole thing of burning the old - that was then, but this is what I'm doing now. Deep down, he doesn't particularly want to talk about the past or hear his old records. He's not interested in anything prior to what he's doing today. I think that's the best thing about him." One of the crucifixion shots appeared inside the 'hours...' booklet. Meanwhile, graphic designer Rex Ray created the new Bowie logo, in which letters and numerals swapped roles over a multi-coloured bar-code design.

 

The retrospective tone of the new material and its frequent references to families and relationships raised the inevitable question of whether 'hours...' might be considered autobiographical. David was quick to dismiss such suggestions: "It's a more personal piece," he told Uncut, "but I hesitate to say it's autobiographical. In a way, it self-evidently isn't. I also hate to say it's a 'character', so I have to be careful there. It is fiction. And the progenitor of this piece is obviously a man who is fairly disillusioned. He's not a happy man. Whereas I am an incredibly happy man!... I was trying to capture elements of how, often, one feels at this age...There's not much concept behind it. It's really a bunch of songs, but I guess the one through-line is that they deal with a man looking back over his life." To the New York Daily News, he added that "I've had twelve of the most buoyant years of my life. It's been fabulous. But I can't stand happy albums. I don't own any happy albums and wouldn't want to write one."

 

In another interview, this time for Q, Bowie added that "Obviously I am totally aware of how people read things into stuff like this. I'm quite sure some silly cow will come along and say, 'Oh, that's about Terry, his brother, and he was very disappointed about this girl back in 1969, whenever he got over her...' That sort of thing comes with the territory, and because I have been an elliptical writer, I think people have - quite rightly - gotten used to interpreting the lyrics in their own way."

 

From August 1999 onwards, a so-called "building hours" promotion saw excerpts from the album previewed on BowieNet, while the sleeve image was revealed a square at a time over successive days. On September 21st the entire album was made available to download from BowieNet and participating record store websites, making Bowie the first major-label artist to sell a complete album over the Internet.

 

'hours...' was released into the shops on yet another new label, Virgin, on October 4th 1999. The initial release came in a limited-edition 'lenticular' case, whose grooves allowed the Pieta image to move through three dimensions depending on the angle at which it was viewed. The Japanese issue included "We All Go Through" (elsewhere a single B-side), while a limited-edition French release included a second CD containing the same extra track and a video charting the making of 'hours...'. However, a 12" vinyl picture disc version which appeared in 2000 is, despite its Virgin logo and catalogue number, no more than a semi-legal collector's item. Sony's 2004 US reissue (LEGACY 092099) included five bonus tracks: "We All Go Through", "Something In The Air (American Psycho Mix)", "Survive (Marius De Vries Mix)", "Seven (Beck Mix 2)" and "The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell (Stigmata Film Version)". Columbia's 2004 two-disc version included all of these plus a further 12 B-sides, remixes and alternative versions. The dizzying array of mixes didn't stop there: several more alternative versions appeared on a succession of unreleased in-house CD-Rs, while a further series of variant instrumental, vocal and mono tracks were prepared as reference material for the makers of the Omikron game.

 

Bowie's legendary status was once again on the up: he was appearing in the top tens of numerous 'millennium' polls and had been voted the Sun's 'Music Star Of The Century' and Entertainment Weekly's 'Classic Solo Artist Of All Time'. However, critical reaction to the new album was decidedly mixed, the music press for once proving more enthusiastic than the dailies. Mojo's Mark Paytress announced that the album was "no masterpiece" but nonetheless "crowns a trilogy that represents significantly more than a mere coda to a once-unimpeachable career." Record Collector's Steve Pafford noted that "An artist sometimes needs to produce a more public-pleasing album in order to pursue less popular and more experimental endeavours, and 'hours...' firmly falls into this category...a well-structured album, full of little reminiscences, and disarmingly honest in its approach." The Independent On Sunday made the "solid album of slow-burning rock ballads" its CD of the week, while Q gave four stars to what it considered "a richly textured and emotionally vivid set", adding that "This time around, Bowie sounds influenced by nobody except himself, and he couldn't have picked a better role model."

 

The Guardian, on the other hand, found the album "sludgy and laborious", while The Independent considered it "as bad as anything he's done, including the Tin Machine albums". Select complained that "Bowie seems to have transformed himself into a more highbrow Sting" with "a lack of urgency that suggests that the 'confessional' is just another style Bowie's trying out for size", while Time Out dismissed the album as "Bowie's most pointless and desultory record since Tin Machine II." The NME considered "Thursday's Child" "splendid, sweeping stuff," but complained that "the rest of the album is a pale imitation of the same moody magnificence" let down by "mediocre songwriting." In the Sunday Times Mark Edwards praised the writing but made no bones about his distaste for Reeves Gabrels, declaring that throughout the 1990s "Bowie has been capable of writing songs with all the melodic brilliance and lyrical quirkiness of his glorious 1970s peak. Unfortunately, he then lets Gabrels smother them in unnecessary layers of guitar. Possibly Gabrels thinks he is avant-garde. He isn't. He just makes pointless noise."

 

It wasn't all bad news; the Scotsman admitted that the songs "will grow in stature with further listens, even if they are far more delicate blooms" than Bowie's classics, and Mark Paytress confessed to "a sneaking suspicion that 'hours...' will be remembered with at least as much affection" as many of the EMI reissues that had appeared a fortnight earlier.

 

Tony Visconti considered 'hours...' a throwback to Bowie's early recordings: "I think it's a very nineties sound," he told reporters, "but his songwriting has returned to that more melodic sound with accessible lyrics". Visconti believed that the new material revealed not "that weirded-out Bowie whose [lyrics] were harder to understand, but one that has beautiful lyrics about relationships and life experiences and, like in the sixties, a vast sonic panorama."

 

As usual, Visconti's remarks are perceptive: yes, the proliferation of twelve-string acoustic intros and the ravishing melodies may superficially suggest a throwback to the Hunky Dory days, but 'hours...' nevertheless offers a very modern sound: programmed synthesizers, vocodered vocals and Reeves Gabrels's whizzing guitar effects are never far from the top of the mix. In Britain the album was a success, its number 5 chart peak putting it higher than any album since Black Tie White Noise. In America it made less impact, peaking at number 47 by comparison with Earthling's 39. Commercially, yet again reservations abound over the choice of lead-off single: the complex and multi-layered "Thursday's Child" was perhaps too challenging a proposition for the charts, whereas the instant acoustic impact of either "Seven" or "Survive", two beautiful songs sunsequently released as singles, just might have launched the album with a smash hit.

 

Despite its comparative commercial success, 'hours...' ultimately failed to win the widespread critical approval accorded to its immediate predecessors, and after the sensory assaults of 1.Outside and Earthling, its gentler tone certainly came as a surprise and perhaps a disappointment to some. In both writing and production the album is unusually cluttered and indistinct, lacking the focus and attack of the best Bowie albums and betraying unwelcome signs of padding. But few would deny that its best moments - like the magnificent 1970s throwback "Survive" and the stunning techno-ballad "Something In The Air" - offer a convincing reminder that this is still the work of one of rock's finest songwriters. 'hours...' makes a less aggressive artistic statement than any Bowie album since the mid-1980s, but on its own terms it's a success: a collection of lush, melancholic and often intensely beautiful music, and a necessary stepping-stone towards a new maturity of songwriting which would soon yield more spectacular results.