By Steve Appleford
** 1/2 David Bowie
"Hours . . . ," Virgin.
On 1996's "Earthling," Bowie had seemingly resurrected his creative self, finding new inspiration in the drum-and-bass movement. But, as ever, he's already abandoned that edgy style on "Hours . . ." (due Tuesday), which is often emotionally naked but musically unformed, with memorable melodies hard to find. The album does have fine moments, such as the regretful torch song "Something in the Air" and lively guitar work by Reeves Gabrels and Chris Haskett (formerly of the Rollins Band). Which makes for some nice passages, but not a great album.
"Hours..." (Virgin Records)
He spent two recordings (Outside and Earthling) trying to cop Trent Reznor's moves, which sounded as foolish as it looked. The Man Who Fell to Earth landed with a giant thud, proving once and for all that chameleons do indeed age with the gracelessness of regular folks. (And that's forgiving him Tin Machine, which is a real act of charity...or pity.) Fitting, then, that David Bowie would "return to roots," as he keeps insisting. Time to start over.
If this isn't Hunky Dory, then it's not far from Scary Monsters -- neither of which is as interesting as Changesonebowie or Changestwobowie, the latter two proving beyond any doubt how much of a singles artist the concept auteur really was. Still, better the acoustic and melancholy Bowie than the let's-twitch Bowie, who, since 1983, has sounded like a 63-year-old washed-up Broadway actor faking arena-disco. But this being Bowie, "Hours..." is still a concept album -- in this case, the soundtrack to a French video role-playing game titled Omikron the Nomad Soul. Only this time around, the conceit never gets in the way of the result, which is the best thing you can say about this disc; at least there are no songs about aliens and earthlings and 21st-century art detectives lurking around every corner.
Actually, this is Bowie's most human-sounding record in years -- warm where Outside was frigid, emotional where Earthling was sterile. Problem is, "Hours..." also sounds as though it were recorded in 1985 -- for God's sakes, all those groaning-moaning synths and backup gospel-pop vocals and snap-crackle-pop electric guitars and strumming-humming acoustic ones. Come back, Nile Rodgers, all is forgiven. Let's dance? This record barely crawls.
Like his old pal Iggy Pop, Bowie's "rock" has reached a midlife crisis; it doesn't know whether to play it soft ("Survive," "Seven") or hard (the laughable arena excursion "The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell," which could have been a Tin Machine outtake). Introspection doesn't suit a man who has spent his entire professional career hiding behind masks; neither do the words "I love you," which pop up here and there like punch lines. The only difference is, Iggy's brand-new Avenue B is bust-a-gut laughable, where Bowie's shtick is just a groaner. "All of my life I tried so hard / Doing my best with what I have / Nothing much happened all the same" -- and that's for starters. It's all downhill from there. Ziggy goes VH1 -- the only time Bowie looks ahead is to make sure his walker doesn't get stuck in the pavement.
by Jane Stevenson
Despite his current fascination with the Internet, Bowie certainly hasn't given short shrift to his first love, judging from his arresting, melancholy and largely acoustic collection of new music that hits stores on Tuesday.
Working with guitarist Reeves Gabrels at his Bermuda home over an eight-month period, Bowie was initially just trying to score a video game.
Instead, he ended up writing an album with so much more emotional weight that recalls earlier work like Hunky Dory.
Take, for instance, the three sombre opening tracks, Thursday's Child , Something In The Air and Survive, which all catch the 52-year-old Bowie in a reflective mood.
"All of my life, I tried so hard, doing my best with what I had, nothing much happened all the same," he sings on Thursday's Child.
"We lay in each other's arms but the room is just an empty space, I guess we lived it out, something in the air, we smile too fast and can't think of a thing to say," Bowie laments on Something In The Air.
And on Survive, the album's standout track, he sings: "I should have kept you, I should have tried, I should have been a wiser kind of guy, I miss you."
Otherwise, Bowie plugs in for What's Really Happening, a droning guitar song whose lyrics were provided by an Internet contest winner; the straight-ahead rocker The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell -- which he also performed on MuchMusic Awards in Toronto last week -- and the album-ending The Dreamers, complete with distorted vocals.
The album meanders a bit on the slightly more uptempo If I'm Dreaming My Life, Seven and New Angels Of Promise, and gets downright experimental with the Kabuki cabaret of the short instrumental Brilliant Adventure.
Bowie has no plans to tour in support of 'hours ...' so hopefully you checked out his scheduled appearance on last night's season opener of Saturday Night Live with lovely local lass Emm Gryner as backup singer.
1 1/2 stars
At least the guy still knows how to pull off a major change of pace. His last studio album, '97's Earthling, was exceedingly dense, and though the cracked metaphors and alien topography of the lyrics were vintage Bowie, the garbled drum 'n' bass techno sounded desperately up to date.
This time out, having made his bow to contemporaneity by giving the disc a CD-ROM aspect (which turns out to be an ad for his Web site) and allowing it to be downloaded from the Net in toto for those so inclined, he's relaxed and has come up with 10 plain and simple songs. Unfortunately, that means a lot of slow ones with tastefully anonymous-sounding backdrops -- which makes for a pretty snoozy affair since, like a lot of long-haul composers, Bowie seems to have run out of melodies. Even the lyrics are uncharacteristically straightforward, though his spelled-out weary love songs sound as emotionally detached as his more baroque imagery of yore -- minus the fizz of musical discovery. The spirit lifts a little toward the end of the set with "The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell" and "New Angels of Promise" but quickly deflates for the lugubrious closer, "The Dreamers." This one's for hardcore fans . . . and maybe not even them.
Bowie in a mid-life crisis
by Dave Veitch
From Ziggy Stardust to the Thin White Duke to this - the Mid-life Crisis Man. On 'hours...', rock chameleon Bowie adopts a surprising persona - that of a middle-aged man who looks back at his life and wonders what the hell went wrong. The songs are not autobiographical, the happily married Bowie has stressed, and one is inclined to believe him. There's a unsatisfying vagueness to the lyrics - especially compared to the frank mid-life confessions on the latest album by Bowie's pal Iggy Pop - that fails to give his expressions of remorse and regret any resonance. The melodies are kind of vague, too. Leaving behind the cacophonous art-rock and drums 'n bass experiments of his last two albums, Bowie returns to a straight-forward songwriting style - a welcome turn of events if only many the new melodies didn't go down like a carbonated beverage that's lost its fizz; if only the tempos broke out of their mid-tempo rut more often; if only the arrangements weren't so dreary. Thursday's Child and Something in the Air achieve a plaintive grace; and the glammy Pretty Things Are Going To Hell is one of the best all-out rock numbers he's recorded in the 1990s. Alas, these highlights aren't enough to redeem an album too lifeless and unengaging to boost Bowie's flagging career and artistic reputation.
Despite dark 'Hours...', David Bowie is a happy guy
By Dean Goodman
Reuters News Service
David Bowie has not lighted up the pop charts in years, but he still gets plenty of publicity every time he releases a new album. He causes a frenzy whenever he does anything.
Art displays. Theater productions. Internet ventures. Movie soundtracks. Computer games. Bond issues. If Mr. Bowie's name is attached, the media and his fans pay rapt attention.
Such are the rewards for having played a key role in popular culture for more than three decades, whether serving up hit songs like "Fame" and "Let's Dance" or revamping his look every few years or just surviving and still looking good.
Like many artists, he professes to care "not even remotely" what people think about him. His philosophy is that he does not really have a philosophy. "I now see that it's pointless asking questions," he says in an interview. "What you end up doing is embracing the day as it comes."
And why should he question his lot in life? Filthy rich, with a supermodel wife, a couple of homes and a satisfying day job, this lad from London's working class Brixton neighborhood has done well for himself.
Of course his fans may have a few questions after listening to his new release "Hours", (Virgin), the 22nd studio album of a career that has taken him on some weird trips. Some might even ask him: What were you thinking? Have you gone mad?
The album marks yet another radical departure for Mr. Bowie, whose two previous releases were praised by critics for their sonic inventiveness and rich textures. At 52, he has distinguished himself from many musicians of his generation by embracing new artists and sounds such as techno group Nine Inch Nails, jungle pioneer Goldie and electronica wizard Moby.
"Hours" eschews all that fresh excitement, offering downbeat lyrics and melodies instead. The first words on the first track, "Thursday's Child," set the tone "All of my life I've tried so hard / Doing my best with what I had / nothing much happened all the same."
In subsequent songs relationships dissolve, ravens sweep Kafka-like, death and despair abound. With the exception of "The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell," none of the songs is likely to get people out onto the dance floor.
Mr. Bowie swears he has not turned his back on the sounds of his recent albums, or on collaborators such as Brian Eno and Nine Inch Nails front man Trent Reznor. His whole career, after all, is built on confounding pundits with 180-degree turns.
"Of course I'll be working with probably everybody that I've ever worked with at some point in the future. It's as simple as that. The one thing that is consistent about me is that I'm inconsistent from album to album," he says.
His sales, however, have been consistently modest. Two earlier records, "Earthling" (1997) and "Outside" (1995), each spent six weeks in the U.S. top 200 and neither cracked the top 20.
"There's really not been any point in my life where that solid, so-called core group have not been there and I've always been lucky at least to have had this rather large cult audience worldwide that's always been pretty accessible to me" he says.
Assuming he even cares, Mr. Bowie can hardly complain about the likely sort chart life of "Hours " since his decision to stay home rather than tour will hurt sales. "I want to write too much, or rather I want too much to write," he says.
Could the album indicate that Mr. Bowie's life is a shambles? That his marriage to supermodel Iman is in decay? That turning 50 was a major bummer for him?
"One would think that if indeed it was autobiographical, which of course it isn't," he says, sounding like a detective who has just corrected his dimwitted partner's analysis of a crime scene.
"Let me assure that my life is wonderful," he says with a laugh. "Really, I'm at probably [at] the apex of my existence in some ways. The last 10 to 12 years have been just extraordinary, a virtual lesson in how to enjoy life."
Inspired by his work on a computer game called "Omikron: The Nomad Soul," which British firm Eidos Interactive will release at the end of October, Mr. Bowie and longtime guitarist and collaborator Reeves Gabrels wrote "Hours " in the persona of "a representational 50-year old looking back on his life."
Rarely has he written generational songs, but he says he thought he would give it a try. "The last thing anybody wants really from an artist, unless they live in a saccharine world, is a really, really, really happy album, and I've never been good at making really, really, really happy albums."
He notes that the title track of 1983's "Let's Dance" - the biggest album of his career - is probably one of the darkest dance songs out there because it was written in the minor chord, a device traditionally employed for bleak tunes.
That song also served as an omen since his fan base swelled exponentially in the mid-1980-s. He looks back on the period and his subsequent albums with dread: commercial success led to artistic failure. The new fans abandoned ship and by the end of the decade he was back on the fringes.
But at least he was happy. "From around '89 onwards," he says, "virtually everything I've recorded or written has been to the best of my abilities at any given time. I can look back on it all and feel quite proud of it all, actually."
The Laughing Gnome can smile again
IN A NUTSHELL
You'll know David Bowie. He's the bloke who said the Lord's Prayer at Wembley Stadium wearing a tooth-paste green suit. The camp-as-knickers mime artist who wore a man's dress in public nearly 30 years before Kevin Rowland tried it. The Thin White Duke, the Laughing Gnome, the Man Who Fell To Earth, etc, etc. You name in, he invented it. Then the 80s came and something went wrong: he stopped being weird. After he made two albums of near-dross on the back of 1983's funky million seller, Let's Dance, the 90s have seen him slowly recapture his old form, conversely thanks to having met and married ex-supermodel Iman, and being elevated to the status of International Renaissance Man. He's worth squillions on the stock market, is a noted art critic and hands-on proprietor of his own web service provider, BowieNet. Even the Beckham barnet he's currently sporting is his best look in years.
WHAT'S IT LIKE?
As befits the lightning-faced pop chameleon, it's an album of two halves. While hours... doesn't offer the schizophrenic extremes of his late 70s albums Low and Heroes, which positioned straight rock songs on one LP side and ambient soundscapes on the other, the first five tracks are reflective, if slightly over-produced, dispatches from the mind of an ageing, disappointed - and, Bowie insists, entirely fictional - man. Then the scabrous synth-rock of What's Really Happening kicks in and from then on, excepting the wistful Brilliant Adventure, we're back on the superlatively noisy ground that Bowie last prowled on Scary Monsters before his recent experiments on Outside and Earthling. He's seen fit to remind us of his genius as a writer of complex, melodic, memorable songs and, with hours., has done it with his typical style.
HOW MANY GOOD TRACKS?
Seven, out of ten.
New Angels Promise, the spirit of all his greatest, strangest songs in one.
"The pretty things are going to Hell/They wore it out but they wore it well" from The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell.
It's been said before, but there's old wave, there's new wave and there's David Bowie. Who else could sound so fresh 23 albums down the line?
He's wearing sandals on the back cover forchrissakes! There are three gorgeous tracks here, majestic slow-burners Thursday's Child, Survive and Seven but unfortunately Bowie has let guitar hero wannabe Reeves Gabrels, the sadist behind Tin Machine, take his axe to the remaining tracks turning Dave's deft touches into a mess. As an attempt to recapture the poetry and mystery of yore (Hunky Dory is a touchstone) it's worthwhile and who wouldn't get a chill hearing Bowie intone "Beatle boys all snowy white" as he does on Survive? Superior to most old hoofers of Bowie's vintage who should have given up years ago (hello Tom Jones).
IS DAVID BOWIE a cyber-prophet, a feral rock'n'roller, a senile delinquent, a gracefully greying elder statesman of pop, a website mogul or an ageing muso? None of us really knows any more, and neither, I suspect, does he. >From the outset of Hours... it's evident that Bowie has abandoned his rather ill-conceived flirtation with drum & bass - 1997's Earthling was excellent for about a third of its 45 minutes but no more - and replaced it with a relatively straightforward downbeat rock blueprint. I can hear traces of Radiohead here, most obviously, but also suggestions and fragments of bands as disparate as Joy Division, JAMC, Mekons, The Blue Nile and Bark Psychosis. For all its faults, Earthling at least had the element of surprise about it, given that it was so loud, abrasive and dirty in its overall sound. Small portions of Hours... are like that too, but for the most part it's downbeat, quiet and introspective.
One or two of the tracks flirt with orthodox rockist textures: 'What's Really Happening' could have been excellent if (at the risk of sounding like a muso) the guitar sound on it wasn't so clean and sterilised, while 'The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell' isn't, thankfully, an affectionate homage to the 1970s Britrock outfit, but rather a semi-satisfying stompalong held together by a frazzled, screeching riff. If Bowie had had a musical foil of the calibre of, say, Adrian Belew on board, songs like these could have been coaxed and shaped into genuine greatness. As it is, they fall frustratingly short.
The best tracks are the ones which forsake abrasion for clarity. 'Thursday's Child' is a marvellous creepy slice of rock noir, and a cracking choice as first single; 'Something In The Air' offsets shards of crystal-clear guitar lines, a la Blue Nile, against serene washes of keyboard and subtle, insistent drumming; and 'Survive' sees Bowie give easily his best vocal performance of the record, at once haunted and passionate, as he beseeches a lover to stay by his side.
And that - apart from the penultimate track, a darkly atmospheric short instrumental titled 'Brilliant Adventure' - is more or less that. The remaining cuts, without exception, are devoid of distinguishing features. It's years since Bowie had a hit worthy of the name, and Hours... is unlikely to change that state of affairs. It was never going to be album of the year, but we had every right to expect more than this.
(6 out of 12)
Praise the Lord and pass the mascara - David Bowie's rediscovered the melodic muse.
If his recent output has been aimed at the head rather than the heart, Hours signals a return to songs you can fall in love with - great swooning creations delivered with a new found intensity.
The musical rebirth is suggested by the cover, with a new-look Bowie leaning over his stricken former incarnation.
And sure enough he rings in the ch-ch-changes by ditching the drum'n'bass experiments for a straight rock format.
The siren voice is in great shape, whether sneering through stomping rock songs or gliding over ballads in finest Newley-esque fashion.
He's given good support from guitarist and co-writer Reeves Gabrels, who evokes the memory of Mick Ronson while retaining his own distinctive touch.
Some of the later tracks are awash with an eastern influence reminiscent of Bowie's early 80s work.
But it's the glam-tinged tracks that are most likely to please older fans.
Something In The Air and Seven mark a return to the Bowie of old.
Guitars crunch and whine, the ghost of Ziggy flutters briefly into view and a million ageing star children wipe tears from glittering lashes.
At the age of 52 it would be easy for Bowie to rest on his laurels, or even feel intimidated by the achievements of his younger self.
But Hours sees him revisit the past with dignity, style and some great songs. Welcome back to the Jean Genius.
By Nigel Packer
Now that he's fifty something, it's no surprise to find that Bowie has moved on from dabbling in beats and has returned to his old themes of time and change. Hours finds Bowie in introspective mood, examining his past lives and wondering if he has created anything of value for the future . Something In The Air, New Angels Of Promise and Brilliant Adventure lean towards the Heroes/Lodger/ Scary Monsters era, while Seven harks back to Hunky Dory days. The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell, however, proves that Bowie is not about to indulge in neo-futurist nostalgia, while What's Really Happening, with lyrics written by a lucky subscriber to the Bowie website, shows that the Dame still has one eye on the next millennium.
Oh look, he's one of us again
VIRGIN CDV 2900
In 1999, there are those too young to remember British Rail, tenbob notes or the time you could buy a new David Bowie album without a creeping sense of dread. We may be stuck with privatised railways and decimal currency, but the Dame's latest long-player is, delightfully, just as good as they used to be. 'hours...' is a richly textured and emotionally vivid set. Contrast the faxed-in vocals and chattering beats of its predecessor, 1996's Earthling, or the conceptual stodge of '95's 1. Outside, to see the improvement. While Bowie has warned against seeing these songs as autobiographical - although they largely concern a man of his age, in bittersweet review of the passing years - they at least sound inhabited.
For an artist who is always considered distant and contrived, Bowie is actually a master of operatic romance. Here Thursday's Child and If I'm Dreaming My Life have the emotional throb of his tremulous '70s ballads Can You Hear Me and Word On A Wing. The instrumental Brilliant Adventure, meanwhile, is a direct echo of side two of "Heroes". This time around, Bowie sounds influenced by nobody except himself, and he couldn't have picked a better role model.
-- Paul Du Noyer
The album gets 4 stars (which means "Excellent - definitely worth investigation" and is accompanied by the now-familiar publicity pic of Bowie in blue grimacing (caption: "David Bowie: "Lovely teeth." "Thank you, they're Prada."")
"Mr B's 23rd solo album. One track, 'What's Really Happening?' features words written by the lucky fan who won a special work-with-Dave internet contest.
Bowie's later career has been characterised by an increasingly ill-advised attempt to keep up with trends - on his last album, 'Earthling', he discovered drum'n'bass just as MFI were using it to flog chipboard wardrobes. But worry not, 'hours...' doesn't see Bowie doing big beat. Beginning with the declaration that "All of my life I've tried so hard, doing my best with what I had", this is Bowie finally conceding that his raving days are over.
Musically it's a grown-up take on the acoustic balladry of early Bowie albums like 'Hunky Dory'. But while it's not as blatantly poor as 'Earthling', Bowie seems to have transformed himself into a more high-brow Sting. Even on the personal exorcism of 'Seven' there's a lack of urgency that suggests that the 'confessional' is just another style Bowie's trying out for size. Maybe he should've gone skate-rock after all. 2/5"
Another David Bowie album, another chance to marvel at the Oz-like impotence of this once noble, once questing performer, whose ardent pursuit of the title "Biggest Buffoon in Christendom" seems to know no bounds. 'hours...', the first fruit of a new deal with Virgin, is being positioned by the label as a successor to Hunky Dory; ie straightforward songs with tunes, like wot he used to sing in the old days. Back in the real world, it's actually Bowie's most pointless and desultory record since Tin Machine II; a grim farrago of lumpen, post-grunge sessioneering (ringmaster: tiresome, overindulged avant-guitarist Reeves Gabrels), home studio synthesised strings (arranging songs properly is so boring, isn't it) and cliched "autobiographical" lyrics (as if anyone cared).
Thursday's Child, the single, attempts to lasso our interest with a contrivedly angular chord progression, then blows it by deciding it's so clever, it can bloody well get to the chorus without a proper bridge (By contrast, the songcraft on Hunky Dory is meticulous - that's why people like it so much). What's Really Happening, with words by some bloke from Wisconsin who won a competition to co-write a song with the Dame, has a Low-ish menace that's borderline beguiling. Brilliant Adventure is an Eastern-tinged instrumental. Devotees will be interested to know that our hero adopts throughout a fey, strangulated version of the "psychotic cockney" voice ('E 'ad an 'orror of rooms??) employed to greatest effect on Scary Monsters, an album reckoned to be hot stuff when I was a tot. I'm assuming everyone else stopped reading at the beginning of the first paragraph.