Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Hours... (1999)


1. Thursday's Child: The moody magnificence of ‘Thursday’s Child’, a laid-back contemplative piece, is a pleasing shift in tone from the previous album's all-out bombastic aural drum 'n bass assault. Wistful and melancholy and sung quite beautifully in Bowie’s fragile vibrato, it’s the only track on the album where Bowie doesn’t do his own backing vocals. 6.5

2. Something in the Air: This one featured in a couple of film soundtracks (eg: Memento) and has a nervous grace to it via bittersweet reflections, grandiose minor chords and emotional atmospherics but, similar to a lot of materiel on Hours... , hardly a memorable melody. 4.5

3. Survive: Classic-sounding Bowie track and relatively straightforward affair with an acoustic guitar (and what sounds like a mandolin) strumming it’s way through a simple lyric and sweet melody. Represents a contemplative artist in the autumn of his life looking back over the years and trying to make sense of it all. Sparks into life with Reeves Gabrels’ solo before an outro that sounds a bit like 1975’s ‘Win’. 5.0

4. If I'm Dreaming My Life: An echo of a three-part epic, this has a certain dramatic presence although it sounds like it belongs on Tin Machine II. Like much of this album never gets out of first gear. 4.0

5. Seven: A pleasant acoustic song of regret. Like a few songs on this album the production is sparse and sounds like a demo, although give me that over the blips and bleeps of Earthling anyday. 5.0

6. What's Really Happening?: Ultra-dull track co-written by an Internet competition winner although the lyrics are quite good. Reeves Gabrels does his best Mick Ronson but nothing to get too enthused over here. 4.0

7. The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell: Hilarious tongue-in-cheek glam retread with it’s chugging designer metal riff and glammy swagger. It’s a harmless little sarcastic grunge number and sung in an amusing English robotic voice. Shame there wasn't more of this on the album. 5.5

8. New Angels of Promise: Futuristic-sounding epic with a lovely Japanese-influenced synth-flute intro (and outro). Written for the soundtrack for the computer game Omikron, it’s the standout track on the album. Sounds like something off "Heroes" combined with Outside, it’s an extremely underrated song. The most structurally complex and strongest Bowie track in years. 8.0

9. Brilliant Adventure: This short instrumental is also reminiscent of Bowie’s late 70s work, ‘Moss Garden’ and ‘Crystal Japan’ spring to mind, but they were inspired works of genius. This is discordant, inconsequential filler. 3.0

10. The Dreamers: Strong album closer with great lyrics about decline of spirit and guilt with a nice distorted treatment on the vocal. It’s quite a complex piece and rewards with repeated listens and finishes the album on a pleasing note alluding to what comes next. 6.0


VERDICT: Bowie explores adult contemporary pop territory on this introspective album with it’s brooding, wrist-slitting laments about growing old and irrelevant. Hours... is certainly not on par with his earlier masterworks as initially reported (far from it) but it never attempts to be. His lyrics deal with subjects of remorse, regret, mistakes and failure almost relentlessly, at a time when he seemed genuinely happier with his life more than ever. His vocal performance throughout is excellent and this marked a return to more traditional song structures after two or three willfully experimental albums. Unfortunately the majority of Hours... comes across with precious little of the vitality and energy Bowie is known and capable of. Some of the tracks on this mostly unexciting album make me long for his (at least) Tonight-era swagger and relative cool. The languorous pacing of every humourless track (except perhaps 'The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell'), and muted feel of the album in general makes me wonder if the enigmatic songwriting genius who set the rock scene ablaze in the 1970s is still with us. This album is disappointing not through pretension (Black Tie White Noise) or over-ambition (Outside) or trying to be down with the hipsters (Earthling) but through time-honored sub-standard songwriting. The lenticular album cover is a good one, a repentant long-haired Bowie comforts an exhausted short-haired 1997 version. I know how he feels.

NEXT: “Nothing remains……”

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