By: Eric G.
As prolific as David Bowie was in the seventies it seems strange that his output in the past two decades combined has not only been far less frequent but also of a sadly inconsistent and uninspired caliber. There have been a few exceptions like Let’s Dance (although, Bowie would cringe at the thought of it) and maybe even bits of Black Tie/White Noise, but he didn’t really put himself back together musically until 1995 with Outside, which marked his first collaboration with Brian Eno in over a decade. Earthling was a step closer to greatness but it relied too heavily on the fad of jungle to be a truly remarkable album. Hours… reportedly takes a look back at the past in all of its illustrious glory. Bowie is assessing his own output to date with a self-referential album that harkens back to the acoustic madness of Hunky Dory and on to the Glam of the Ziggy Stardust era.
“Thursday’s Child” opens Hours… with a maudlin tone: “all of my life I’ve tried so hard/doing my best with what I had/nothing much happened all the same.” The mid-tempo, keyboard heavy track skimps by almost unnoticeably with loudly mixed female back-up vocals. Not exactly an impressive way to start off your last release of the decade but subtle enough all the same. “Something In The Air” hits the mark. Bowie bends the pitch of his voice in the chorus to eerie effect. Spooky yet simple. Reeves Gabrels has learned (at least for the time being) to tame those spastic squeals from his guitar. He’s an ace guitarist when he’s not wanking around with showy, histrionics.
“Seven” lives up to the promise of Hunky Dory-type, weirdo acoustic ballads, but Hours… doesn’t take off until “If I’m Dreaming My Life.” The song plays off a minor chord progression that sneaks into a rocking groove while Bowie moans in his best crooner voice. At seven minutes plus, the song, perhaps, overstays its welcome, but it’s an instant classic all the same. “What’s Really Happening?” recalls the space rock pretensions of some of Bowie’s eccentric rock of the late seventies, and it segues nicely into the album’s most rocking track, “The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell.”
The second half of Hours… is pretty flawless. The experimental edge is more obvious, and Bowie’s voice is in top form. “New Angles Of Promise” at times sounds like an outtake off Low, Bowie’s finest album. After the eastern-tinged interlude, “Brilliant Adventure”, Bowie closes Hours… with “The Dreamers”- a strangely schizophrenic rocker with triumphant guitar runs and languid keyboards. Bowie isn’t trying to outperform or undermine his past with Hours… Instead he seems merely to be acknowledging his career and commenting on it from a distance.