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2023 Albums Thing 074 - David Bowie “Hours…”

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Bowie’s last album of the 20th century, “Hours…” was 1999’s follow up to “Earthling”. Now, if you’ve already read my thoughts on “Earthling” you’ll know that I think it’s one of Bowie’s very best. “Hours…” subsequently had a lot to live up to. Both “Earthling” and the previous “1. Outside” had been particularly aggressive and experimental records, “Hours…” tempers the aggression and experimentation and sees our hero return to a more personal and dare I say “pop” style. After experimenting with a murderous concept (“1. Outside”) and then going on a hedonistic clubbing bender (“Earthling”) “Hours…” is more of a songwriters album, “songs for my generation” as Bowie described it.

The songs for “Hours…” sprang from some different avenues. Many, including “The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell”, “New Angels Of Promise”, “The Dreamers” and “Thursdays Child”, were written in Bermuda, where Bowie was living at the time, with Reeves Gabrels (writing with him not living with him). Others were written for a video game Bowie had been asked to contribute music to and appear in, Omikron: The Nomad Soul. Seven songs by Bowie and his virtual band The Dreamers (featuring Gabrels and Gail-Anne Dorsey) that featured in Omikron would find their way onto “Hours…”, “Thursday’s Child”, “Something In The Air”, “Survive”, “Seven”, “The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell”, “New Angels Of Promise” and “The Dreamers”, alongside some instrumentals and songs that would appear later as B-sides. A couple of extra things to note about the songwriting, the whole album was a co-write with Gabrels, something which Bowie had never done before and “What's Really Happening?” has a writing credit for one Alex Grant, a fan who won a competition on BowieNet to finish the lyrics for this song. 

So the music then, the opening “Thursday’s Child” is a lovely tune based on a lyric about a life redeemed. “Something In The Air” is a nice song but is utterly overshadowed by Reeves Gabrels out of place fret-wanking. Time to get something off my chest, I’ve never understood Bowie’s thing with Gabrels. Tin Machine was a disaster and it always struck me that every time you take notice of Gabrels in a song it’s not because his playing is great it’s because he’s doing something that shouldn’t be there, “Something In The Air” is a prime example. As Mark Edwards wrote in a contemporary review in the Sunday Times

Bowie has been capable of writing songs with all the melodic brilliance and lyrical quirkiness of his 70’s 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”.

Anyway I’m glad I got that out there. “Survive” is a beauty, an old style 70’s acoustic ballad with Bowie using his “Cockney Dave” singing voice. Gabrels still manages to stick his nose in where it’s not needed but the song is strong enough to survive it (see what I did there 😉). “If I’m Dreaming My Life” is a bit of a plodder that rocks up for the choruses and features former Rollins Band member Chris Haskett on guitar and fades out on some “Moonage Daydream”-esque guitar noodling.

After the gentle acoustic strum of “Seven” with its vaguely country slide guitar motif, Side 2 rocks out a little more. “The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell” comes on a little Stooges in style as well as title (and sadly contains yet another wildly out of place Gabrels solo). “New Angels Of Promise” is all heavy and brooding. “Brilliant Adventure” is a short instrumental piece in a similar vein to “Warszawa” and things close out with “The Dreamers” which on initial listens has you thinking he’s resurrected the “Shadow Man” (remember him from “Toy”) but on closer inspection the lyric is “shallow man”. There’s a nice 70’s sounding guitar riff to it and I was going to give Gabrels that one but the he gets all Van Halen to end so…

“Hours…” is about the songs, no overarching thematic concept, no particular musical style being explored, it’s simply a collection of great songs. Sitting down with it, it feels quite short (47 minutes my digital copy tells me but it feels quicker than that when listening). Possibly because it is mostly about the songs and doesn’t sit at some pivotal juncture in his life or arrived in a way no record had arrived before “Hours…” feels like it gets somewhat overlooked, it certainly was by me for a long time. I shall be taking a lot more notice of it from here on.

What’s Really Happening - https://youtu.be/1jFTxyYVATw

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