Virgin Records, 1999
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/11/1999
If I had to use a word to describe my past experiences with David Bowie's music, it would be "unapproachable". Sure, the man has had some great songs over the years, but every time I've tried to listen to one of his albums, I've always found myself feeling like an outsider who's just being shown a small glimpse of the big picture. Maybe that's why I've not found myself willing to take chances with Bowie's recent releases -after my not-so-pleasant first experience with Black Tie White Noise, I all but gave up on his recent output.
Then, I decided to take a chance on 'hours...', Bowie's latest release - and, no, I didn't base this review off the Webcasts of the album, I actually got a copy to review. Much to my surprise and delight, Bowie seems to have shed the "hipper-than-thou" attitude which torpedoed a lot of his recent work, and has created one of the most approachable albums of his career - one, in fact, that might get him noticed on the radio again.
It didn't start out quite that promising. "Thursday's Child" had a decent enough rhythm section, but Bowie's vocals seemed to have taken a dip south, almost becoming slightly out of tune at times. (Having freely admitted I've not listened to most of Bowie's 1990s work, I don't know if this is a new development or not.) But his heart seems to be in the right place musically, and things end on a more positive note.
For much of 'hours...', Bowie spends the time with guitarist/collaborator Reeves Gabriels creating music that harkens back to his glory days. Tracks like "Survive," "New Angels Of Promise," "Seven" and "The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell" (I don't think this refers to the band of the same name) all are moments of pure brilliance, showing that Bowie has hardly lost his pop sensibilities.
In fact, I actually found myself disappointed that 'hours...' ended after listening to the instrumental "Brilliant Adventure" and the closing track "The Dreamers". Bowie was on such a creative roll that I honestly didn't want this one to end.
Special notice should be made of the track "What's Really Happening?", the song best known as the winning song of Bowie's Cyber Song contest. Alex Grant, who provided the lyrics, might not be noticed by most of the mainstream press (especially since there's no mention of the song or its author in the press materials - at least not that I could find), but his lyrics, combined with Bowie and Gabriels's music, works well.
Not everything, however, works well on this album. "Something In The Air" just doesn't click with me - it kind of suffers from the same problem that "Thursday's Child" did, only it doesn't recover. And while it has a few good moments, "If I'm Dreaming My Life" seems to drag on. The tempo change midsong doesn't help matters.
Undoubtedly there are going to be people who try to decipher the words of this album and try to figure out what story Bowie was trying to tell about his life. I won't get involved in this, if only because I don't know enough about Bowie to make an educated guess about the songs' meanings. Besides - who cares? I'd rather let the songs stand on their own merits and appreciate them as they are, not for what they're construed to mean.
Still, 'hours...' is a surprisingly good album, even if you've been underwhelmed with some of Bowie's recent work. If anything, this disc proves that Bowie is still very much an artist to be taken seriously, and shouldn't be written off as a musical relic. 'hours...' proves that if you've done this, you've made a terrible mistake.