David Bowie

Virgin Records, 1999


REVIEW BY: Roland Fratzl


From beginning to end, Hours… is a masterful blend of spacey pop rock filled with great hooks. When I first listened to it, I thought the album was a bit slow and quiet for my tastes, but boy did it ever grow on me. There are just so many nice little subtle details in the music which you notice upon further listens. The arrangements are intelligent and sophisticated as well. The music is very diverse and surprisingly unique sounding, considering that it’s more of a retrospective mélange of David Bowie’s various past styles in a modern context. There is nothing cliched or predictable here, making for an endlessly fascinating listen. Not only are there catchy hooks in abundance here, (though his previous disc, Earthling, was already strong in that regard), but the overall feel of the album is somewhat moody, melancholy, and ambient.

"Thursday's Child" is the first track, a beautiful, relaxing ballad, with some of the nicest melodies he's ever put to tape. It has a nice 70s feel to it, with some great sultry female backing vocals. The whole album has a recurring theme of Bowie feeling like he's going through some kind of mid-life crisis, announcing his regrets in life, and this is the only down side that I can find on the album...I mean, who wants to hear one of the most popular, respected, supposedly innovative and filthy-rich rock stars in the world complaining about anything?my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

I also want to add that the production of this album is pristine - it's nicely layered, everything is lush, loud, crystal clear, and the mix gives equal prominence to all aspects of the music. It's also quite contemporary (well, for 1999 I guess – not that mainstream popular music has changed drastically since then), incorporating loops and synth programming, but on a very restrained level to complement the actual melodies instead of mere window dressing, which is quite a different approach than that taken on Earthling (as good as it was).

I was worried because several of the tracks start with a mellow acoustic guitar intro, but soon enough other instruments join the fray, making it much more interesting. Reeves Gabrels, the lead guitarist here who has worked on every 90s solo Bowie album in addition to being his band mate in Tin Machine, shows once again how supremely talented he is. He routinely comes up with tasteful, engaging, unique guitar melodies which suit the songs perfectly without ever becoming an intrusion.

Listen to "Something In The Air," with it's magical, almost hypnotic groove, and "Seven," one of Bowie's finest acoustic ballads, filled out by an actual nice keyboard sound. On "The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell" Bowie lets his aggression loose - it's a heavy, distorted rocking tune.

The great material just keeps coming - there's "Brilliant Adventure," an instrumental track with an exotic Japanese sound, kind of like the soundtrack for some ninja movie. I know that description might make it sound cheesy, and I have no idea why it's on this album, but I think it's a very cool and unexpected addition.

Hours…is an inspired Bowie album, sadly overlooked at the time of its release, perhaps because it’s a much slower, introspective work than the fast, energetic slam of Earthling. It's a fine, mature return to his roots without sounding at all rehashed or outdated, and it definitely has a darker, pensive mood about it. It may not be the most obvious starting point for getting into David Bowie, but ignoring it for long would be doing yourself a disservice.

Rating: A-

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© 2008 Roland Fratzl and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Virgin Records, and is used for informational purposes only.