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David Bowie

hours...

(Virgin; US: 4 Oct 1999)

Madonna is commonly credited with being pop’s premier changeling, creating and casting off new images as fast as dominant pop culture trends come and go. But really she’s got competition in this arena. David Bowie’s got her beat in terms of frequency of image morphing and with him, it’s usually about more than mere image. Bowie reinvents his music every time he reinvents his image, which at least invests what could be just calculated money mongering in many quarters with a substantial degree of artistic integrity.


So now we arrive at hours… after a less-than-successful foray into trendy drum’n'bass on 1997’s Earthling (a rare case of Bowie jumping on a bandwagon rather than spearheading a new musical trend). Perhaps he realized the error of his ways and realized he’s got too much talent to be a copyist and too strong of a songwriting gift to be lured into following someone else’s muse. In fact, the album art is illuminating in that a 1999 repentant long-haired Bowie comforts and exhausted short-haired 1997 Bowie, as if to say, “it’s OK, it’s over, and rest in peace.” Trouble is, it’s not over, just different. He has made the same mistake he made on Earthling—following and not leading.


Whatever the reason for the latest transition, hours… is being described as “back-to-basics-Bowie.” But despite Bowie’s undeniable brilliance and his attempts to simplify his sound, Bowie has most assuredly made a wrong turn towards a really bad neighborhood—adult contemporary. Just when the Billboard charts are so full of this type of dross, we truly need talented mainstream artists like David Bowie to help lead the masses out of the doldrums, and yet, Bowie has caved in and joined the pack.


Opening with “Thursday’s Child,” hours… couldn’t begin more ominously for us longtime Bowie fans. His voice sounds strained and not utterly convincing in this A/C style, as if he’s only too aware of how preposterous this latest proposition is. It gets even worse on “Something In the Air,” just about the most uninspired the Thin White Duke has ever sounded—it even makes me long for his Let’s Dance-era swagger and cool, where he at least sounded sure of himself. The languorous pacing of every song doesn’t help either, lulling you into a frankly uncomfortable state of boredom.


David Bowie is much too good for this. Please David, leave the “adult-boring” charts to Celine Dion, Mariah Carey and the rest of that lot. Maybe like Paul McCartney, you need to go back and rediscover your roots. It worked for Sir Paul on 1999’s Run Devil Run, one of his best solo records hands-down, and it can work for you too.

Rating:

Sarah Zupko founded PopMatters, one of the largest independent cultural criticism magazines on the web, back in the Internet's early days of 1999. Zupko is a former Executive Producer for Tribune Media Services, the media syndication arm of the Tribune Company, and a 10-year veteran of Tribune. Her other pursuits involve writing historical fiction and research in the fields of Slavic and German history, as well as general European cultural and intellectual history. Zupko studied musicology, film, and drama at the University of Chicago and media theory at the University of Texas, where she received her M.A.


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