David Bowie – ‘hours…’
Today, we send a happy birthday out into space hoping it finds David Bowie; or at least Major Tom, who might be so kind as to pass along the message.
In a couple of days, we will look to the night sky in search of a black star and remember where we were when we heard the news that David Bowie died. Whatever your method of consumption (vinyl? streaming? cassettes?!?), take a few hours this week and spend some time with David before we dive into a new year of exciting music.
There is a plethora of lists that rank his best albums and we don’t need another one. I’d love to argue my case for Low over The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars as Bowie’s artistic peak but does it really matter? His discography from 1970 to 1980 seems impossible for any artist in any creative field: The Man Who Sold The World, Hunky Dory, Ziggy, Aladdin Sane, Pin Ups, Diamond Dogs, Young Americans, Station To Station, Low, Heroes, Lodger and Scary Monsters. Scratch the surface of any of those albums and you’ll find the future of where music was headed and where it will still go.
The decades that followed were a mix of commercial highs (Let’s Dance), artistic lulls (Never Let Me Down), and exciting experimentalism (Outside). Relaxing in its own orbit between the drum and bass racket of Earthling (1997) and the acclaimed Heathen (2002), ‘hours…’ often gets overlooked for the very reasons that makes it so special. With this 1999 album, Bowie gracefully shifted into an elder statesmen role where re-invention was no longer necessary.
As your “Bowie Week” unfolds, ‘hours…’ and 2013’s The Next Day should be at the top of your playlists
On the elegant opener “Thursday’s Child”, Bowie sings “seeing my past to let it go” and much of the album feels pleasantly familiar to even the most casual Bowie listener. The jagged guitar on “Something In the Air” is reminiscent of Robert Fripp’s work with Bowie in the 1970s while the acoustic “Seven” drifts back to the late 1960s and Bowie’s earliest Deram Records singles. Writing with guitarist Reeves Gabrels, the duo nail the Bowie-rock sound on “The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell” which stands as one of his best post-70s singles.
‘hours…’ was also significant as the first entire album available for download over the internet. At the time, record labels were scrambling to figure out the new technology and protect their investments but David Bowie seemed to be one step ahead, as always. Sadly, the reception for ‘hours…’ was lukewarm and it was the first Bowie album to not crack the Top 40 since, wait for it, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Maybe we were too busy worrying about the Y2K bug to notice the wonderful Bowie album.
As your “Bowie Week” unfolds, ‘hours…’ and 2013’s The Next Day should be at the top of your playlists. Both albums reveal a man who found the many skins he wore as an artist were ultimately never as comfortable as his own. When I miss David Bowie, these albums feel the most comforting, especially ‘hours…’. It is an album that does not demand our awe, simply our company.