From the Archives: David Bowie’s hours… reissue on vinyl and my 1999 review
May 27, 2015
The news came last week via the official website of David Bowie: Bowie’s 1999 album hours… will finally see official release on vinyl by Music On Vinyl on June 15. There are two limited editions on colored vinyl. One is mint green, the other is mixed purple and blue. Both are limited to 2,500 copies. There is also a regular black vinyl version that is not limited. All vinyl is weighted 180g. The records also feature 12-page booklets.
None of the press I read has noted the audio source, though I have sent MOV an email asking what it might be. If you are a true audiophile, you want to know what generational loss you might be getting here. It’s a good sign that Bowie’s site announced the release, and not long ago, the same label reissued Heathen, which they said came from the same source as the original release (David Bowie’s ‘Heathen’ album to see vinyl reissue).
I reviewed this album around the time of its official release, in Oct. 4, 1999, in Vol. 25, No. 25, Issue 505 of “Goldmine Magazine.” Those familiar with the music writing on this blog know, Bowie is a favorite (check out the articles tagged here). Though I often write fondly of this musician, I could sense something amiss on this album. The album before, 1997’s Earthling, was so much more interesting, so when this album arrived it came as a disappointment. Below you will find the original draft of the my review for hours… before it was edited and published. I can’t find an archive featuring the original published review. I think I might have given it two-and-half stars out of five. All these years later, I don’t think my opinion has changed much, but I would not call it a terrible album, just a little weaker than what I expect from Bowie, so pardon my use of “balls” and “blemish,” as it’s still better than a lot of music in general:
Virgin (7243 8 48157 0 7)
For David Bowie, the ‘90s were a strong bounce back from the hit and miss decade of the ‘80s. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a perfect bounce back, and his final installment of the decade, Hours…, is just another blemish among some of the greatest music of Bowie’s career. With this new album the oomph of Earthling is gone, and the charming whimsy of The Buddha of Suburbia is nowhere to be found.
What made Bowie so great in the ‘90s was his lack of pretension. With his ‘90s albums, whenever Bowie thought too hard about his songs and music he screwed it up. In 1992, he gave us Tin Machine II out of an obligation to counter the press; cynicism that Tin Machine was just another Bowie experiment, and 1995’s Outside was constrained by its being a musical interpretation of a short story by Bowie. Hours… fails because of its empty-hearted message of “woe is me, I’m getting old,” which rings hollow. Bowie is too content and too rich nowadays (he’s worth millions after putting his catalog up on the stock exchange).
The only good material on hours… comes after plodding through the first few tedious, opening numbers, including the “Quicksand”-like “Seven” (note the 12-string strumming that drives the song) with nary the existential angst of the original (“I’ve got seven days to live my life or seven ways to die” versus “Should I kiss the viper’s fang/Or herald loud the death man/I’m sinking in the quicksand of my thought/And I ain’t got the power anymore”?).
It isn’t until we get to the center of the album that we find some redemption, even if the atonement is superficial. “What’s Really Happening?” was a result of a contest by Bowie to challenge a fan to write lyrics for him. Alex Grant won and deservedly so. His “Grown inside a plastic box/Micro thoughts and safety locks” is more Bowie than Bowie. “The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell,” finally brings some balls to the forefront, though it still falls short of the calmest number on Earthling. It’s not only Bowie who sounds diluted in his performance. Guitarist Reeves Gabrels has also lost some punch, and, as co-writer for every song, he is as much to blame for the weak music on hours… as Bowie.
Calling hours… a mellow album would just be excusing it for being bland. Once again, Bowie falls prey to his self-consciousness, unintentionally diluting the power of his creativity by making a contrived attempt at this coming of age album. Come on, David, any real Bowie fan knows your immortal. Just give us Bowie.
All images provided by Music On Vinyl, click to zoom in.