Survive

Anloo wheat field

Survive.
Survive (Omikron sequence).
Survive (video).
Survive (instrumental).
Survive (Marius DeVries UK single mix).
Survive (VH1 Storytellers, 1999).
Survive (Top of the Pops 2, rehearsal, 1999). (& another rehearsal.)
Survive (Top of the Pops 2, 1999).
Survive (TFI Friday, 1999).
Survive (live, Net Aid, 1999).
Survive (Cosas Que Importan, 1999).
Survive (Nulle Parte Ailleurs, 1999.)
Survive (live, 1999, later on single).
Survive (Musique Plus, 1999).
Survive (Later With Jools Holland, 1999).
Survive (live, 1999).
Survive (Quelli Che Il Calcio,’ 1999).
Survive (Inte Bara Blix, 1999).
Survive (TVE Spain, 1999).
Survive (Bowie at the Beeb, 2000).
Survive (live, 2002).

The End

We did record an awful lot of stuff, and there really was every intention of going through it and putting out Part II and Part III. The second title was Contamination, and boy was that accurate. And it would have been nice to have somehow done it as a theatrical trilogy. I just don’t have the patience. I think Brian would have the patience.

Bowie, interview by Ken Scrudato, SOMA, July 2003.

For two years after the release of 1. Outside, Bowie kept promising its sequel albums would appear by the end of the millennium, in conjunction with a theatrical production commissioned by the Salzburg Festival, to be staged in Vienna in 1999 or 2000. There also would be a CD-ROM piece of the Outside puzzle, optimistically scheduled for 1996.

Interviewed by Ray Gun at the end of that year, Bowie said 2. Contamination (“hopefully that should be out by spring ’97“) would have “some bearing on the first one, but it’s completely different. It goes backwards and forwards between Indonesian pirates of the 17th and 18th centuries and today…it’s really becoming a peculiar piece of work.” There were at least 25 characters in the piece now: whether these included the likes of Nathan Adler and Ramona Stone was unclear, possibly even to its composer.

Life intervened. Brian Eno sold his house in Britain and relocated his family to St. Petersburg1, while Bowie spent much of 1997 touring Earthling. The more unfeasible the Outside project seemed, the grander Bowie’s plans for it became.

In an April 1997 interview on the Mr. Showbiz website, Bowie said he and Eno had “formulated the storyline and decided to do it ourselves with no other musicians and to not meet while we’re making it…we’ll send the tracks back and forth between St. Petersburg and wherever I am.” Contamination’s Internet arm was carrying much of the dramatic weight by now (“we’d like to bump up all kinds of stuff on the Internet, so you get lots of photographic references…it’s kind of a Ripley’s Believe It or Not premise.”) While the 17th Century pirates were still in the mix, the “narrative” now also included diseases (“Ebola, AIDS, that new tuberculosis“), hence the title. Trent Reznor and Goldie were rumored to have been roped into it.

And even when the century was done and nothing had come about, Bowie wouldn’t let Outside go. In a web-chat in late 1999, he said he and Eno had recorded “over 24 hours of material. Problem is finding the time to sift through.” In February 2000, he told BowieNet users that, yes, finally, this would be the year he “pieced together” Contamination. Instead he re-recorded some of his old Sixties songs.

thegrad

So in the end there was nothing: no CD-ROMs, no websites, no Robert Wilson-produced operas, no new Nathan Adler diaries, no new albums. Instead Bowie had spent the last years of the 20th Century trying his hand at seemingly everything else but Outside sequels: acting in films, hosting The Hunger, launching BowieNet, agreeing to BowieBanc, planning a Ziggy Stardust film/website/play, scoring the videogame Omikron: the Nomad Soul (see the past month’s entries).

No more Outside chapters may have been a blessing. 2. Contamination and 3. Afrikaans (a rumored but never confirmed title, likely a fan’s doing) could’ve been Bowie’s version of the Matrix sequels: more clues! more characters! more time-hopping! And smothering Outside‘s atmosphere in sub-Neal Stephenson exposition and garrulous mythology. When some fans distributed hoax sequences of 2. Contamination (“Ebola Jazz,” “Segue: The Mad Ramblings of Long Beard”) and even fake Nathan Adler diaries it was as inspired an end to the project as any Bowie could have offered.

Still, the slow collapse of the Outside trilogy left a hole in his ambitions. It’s arguable his frenetic activity in 1998-1999 was in part him looking for something, anything to replace his grand millennial folly. But the album he released in the waning months of the 20th Century was something far different from his and Eno’s projects. Its title could have been Inside.

hrs

Reeves Gabrels and I have written a lot in during the last few months and we might just record all these songs to see what will come out of it…We compose for the pleasure and our spectrum is wide, between purely electronic music and acoustic songs.

Bowie, Rock & Folk interview, 1998.

If ‘Hours’2 has a counterpart in the Bowie canon, it’s Diamond Dogs: both albums are salvage jobs, their tracks refugees from a set of other, mainly stillborn projects, assembled higgledy-piggledy yet somehow managing to have a unified tone.

‘Hours’ had a few tributaries. One was the aforementioned Outside sequels. If Bowie really had recorded a day’s worth of music with Eno for 2. Contamination, it’s possible that something from it—a chord sequence, a stray lyric or a top melody—wound up on ‘Hours.’3 David Buckley, who interviewed Reeves Gabrels and Mike Garson in 1998-1999 for his biography, recalled in 2011 that both had told him there was still a lot of material recorded that had never been used (whether this was the Leon suites from 1994 or newer Contamination tracks is unclear).

Then there was Reeves Gabrels’ upcoming solo album. Gabrels had taken one for the team in 1995 by promoting Outside instead of his own debut solo LP, The Sacred Squall of Now. The plan was for Gabrels to finally have a big-ticket release, with an LP of songs co-composed with Bowie. He and Bowie, working in Bowie’s house in Bermuda in late 1998, wrote what Bowie estimated variously as anywhere from 30 or 100 songs, some of which were intended for Gabrels, including “The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell,” “We All Go Through” and “Survive.”

Finally there was Omikron. Bowie and Gabrels also were writing pieces that had to serve two masters: the songs had to work as incidental music for a game sequence as well as on a Bowie or Gabrels album. The songs needed less abrasive guitar, more “ambient” synthesizer and steady basslines; they needed to be structurally loose, so that pieces (a bridge or a chorus, say) could repeat over and over again if a player got stuck on a particular screen.

surv

By now, Gabrels was becoming creatively frustrated. He felt there should have been a follow-up to Earthling, cut in early 1998, to be the Aladdin Sane to Earthling‘s Ziggy Stardust: an elaboration and expansion of a sound, honed by months on stage. “The music had evolved, the band was playing great, the window of opportunity was there,” he told Buckley. So all the time that he, Mark Plati and Bowie had spent sifting through live recordings for a rejected live album was wasted: why couldn’t they have gotten Gail Ann Dorsey and Zachary Alford into the studio and cut a trio record?

So when he went to Bermuda in autumn 1998, Gabrels hoped for another start, that this could be finally the album he and Bowie had thought of making a decade ago, before Tin Machine had come along. An open collaboration, ranging from electronic music to hard, avant-garde rock, with no record label interests considered. After all, Bowie had a website now: he could just distribute the tracks to his fans should Virgin get cold feet.

Yet Bowie had different aims. Beyond taking the needs of Omikron into consideration, he was in a more traditionalist frame of mind. He’d enjoyed a carnival phase in the mid-Nineties; now he was in a Lenten mood. “There was very little experimentation in the studio,” Bowie said. “A lot of it was just straightforward songwriting. I enjoy that; I still like writing that way.”

This new album would be his severance from his Nineties obscurantist period: to make it obvious, he had the cover of “Hours” play on Michelangelo’s Pietà, with his new, somber curator persona cradling the dying “rave uncle” of Earthling. Both videos for the album would set Bowie in surreal domestic situations, with muted colors and lighting; the actor looking his age for once.

Gabrels conceded. As the album, as it took shape, was becoming somber and introspective, he needed to dampen down the guitars, to be sure that he wasn’t undermining the songs. It’s a small irony that the one album for which Gabrels received full co-composition credit is the one on which he’s essentially muted on guitar. And Bowie in turn wanted his vocals not to sound mannered. “I wanted to approach them just like a bloke. To give them a feeling of: anybody could sing these songs. They’re not difficult.”

hurr

Once he’d assembled enough songs for his own album (and so claiming the lion’s share of them—sorry, Reeves), Bowie began working on a narrative voice. He described this as being a distillation of some of his friends who, at age 50, were regretting their lives. “I’ve watched them flounder a little over the last 10 years, when they’re reaching that stage where it’s very, very hard to start a new life,” he told Gil Kaufman. “Some of them are affected with resignation and some of them, a certain bitterness maybe…they found themselves in relationships that aren’t what they had expected to be in when they were younger.”

You could call this a bluff, the equivalent of the man who asks a doctor about an embarrassing rash “a friend” has contracted. Sure Bowie was, by all accounts, happily married and would soon be a father again. He was rich, established, world-famous. Not that these conditions will prevent depression and regret from striking. But he was also creatively exhausted. He had fought and fought, for years, to make his music new again, to risk making a fool of himself on stage. Now his latest spectacle had failed due, in part, to his own lack of commitment; perhaps he was left wondering what he even had left to say anymore.

That said, the voice that Bowie used on much of ‘Hours,’ a melancholy sad sack, does seem crafted, even affected. The vocals are restrained, the lyrics are more quotidian, with dull rhymes and shopworn images. Was this in character, or was Bowie papering over, in his interviews, a sharp decline in his own songwriting? Was he charging his generation with his own creative depletion?

I’ll argue that ‘Hours’ is a flawed experiment, a secret parody: it’s Bowie attempting to do a record “proper” for a man of his age and stature. It’s his aging Baby Boomer lament album, his “September Songs” for a generation (the title played on unforgiving time and a common bond: hours/ours). He’d listened to nothing but his old songs before he wrote this album, he claimed, but he’d also obviously listened to his aging peers. Because ‘Hours’ is riddled with ghosts of old songs, with strains of lost singers: he’s mocking them, answering them, humbled by them. It’s one of his hardest albums to grasp, because it can be dull and ordinary and can feel strained: it’s like watching a once-great track runner struggling to run a 5k race. The question, left to each listener, is whether this mood is intentional: if the diminished figure in these songs is a subtle mask or if it’s simply the only voice Bowie could muster.

singl

“Survive” was the first track to be released from the ‘Hours’ sessions. Its title wasn’t promising.

As I wrote in the “Heroes” entry, Greil Marcus around 1975 had noticed the growing popularity of the word “survivor,” in films, on TV chat shows, and especially rock music: “Soul Survivor,” Street Survivors, “Survival,” “I Will Survive.” It seemed to me to speak for everything empty, tawdry, and stupid about the seventies, to stand for every cheat, for every failure of nerve. “Survivor” had once meant someone who had endured an unspeakable horror; it became an aging person’s self-deprecating boast. “I will get by…I will survive,” Jerry Garcia had tootled in 1987 (he didn’t, but again, neither will any of us in the long run).

So a song in which a 52-year old man sings about surviving seems emblematic of this rot: a reduction of life to its greyest elements. It could have been a song about his failing digestion. What saves “Survive” is the sour, occasionally defiant sense of regret in it: the singer’s not regretting a path he didn’t take, but simply noting that there are no more paths left for him anymore. In one interview, Bowie said that “there was a time in my life where I was desperately in love with a girl—and I met her, as it happens, quite a number of years later. And boy, was the flame dead! ” So it’s tempting to speculate that the woman in “Survive” came from a retrieved memory of Hermione Farthingale, Bowie’s lost love, who he’d used to symbolize everything he’d left behind in the Sixties. But the woman in “Survive” is still abstract to the singer, a place-filler he uses to stand for something else he can’t quite explain: a loss of his own potential.

surv

There are a few Sixties shadows in the track: Mark Plati’s Mellotron, the Beatles playing clubs, “Time Is On My Side,” “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” (the guitar hook heard at the fade, of course referencing Bowie’s nicking of it for “Starman” too). But the song “Survive” answers, very obliquely, is Nick Drake’s “One of These Things First.

In Drake’s song, a young man sits and thumbs through possible lives: he’s like a boy watching soap bubbles floating in the air. “Could’ve been a sailor, could’ve been a cook.” He could have been reliable, steady; he chose not to be. He’s callous in how much he could hurt the person he’s speaking to. Could’ve been a real live lover, not the half-one that you got. “Could have been your friend,” he sings, attaching as much weight to that word as to his musings about being clocks and books. “A whole long lifetime/could have been the end.” Committing to someone would mean the end of his freedom, closing off all the other avenues that snake out beyond him. Drake wants to remain in the conditional perfect, in a happy state of possibility. He sings with graceful lightness, supported by Paul Harris’ piano, itself eager to break off into yet another line of thought, while Ed Carter’s bass is a squirrelly movement underground.

“Survive” turns up that singer again, finds him at the ebb of his life. No more mornings left for him. But he’s still committed to the what-could-have been, still bluntly denying reality, still wanting his space. “I should’ve kept you,” he mumbles. “I should’ve tried.” The verses seem to run out of breath, slouching into dull rhymes (“I should’ve been a wiser kind of guy“) and weary expiration phrases: “Iiii love you.” The choruses, feinting at a move to A major but winding up stuck back in the verse’s D major, struggle to voice the man’s few hopes. A descending bassline tugs him down to earth.

(Gabrels, who’d written much of the song’s music for his solo album, gets the best part in the play: the lead guitar, representing the noblest piece of the man who’s singing. Gabrels is the only bright color in the song: the little dancing phrase after “I miss you,” the counter-melody in the second chorus, the eight-bar solo that’s like a puff of hope uncorked from a bottle, the descending arpeggios that shadow the man’s growing ambivalence.)

He sees a woman across the floor somewhere, maybe at some class reunion. They could’ve been something once: they both know it, they both may not regret it. You’re the mistake I never made, he sings. She sees through him, as an old fraud, as someone who never settled for life in the hopes of finding something better. And he knows how she sees him, and that she’s right. But I’ll survive your naked eyes, as the song ends. There’s nothing but delusion, never was anything else but it (the song itself is a loop: opening and ending on the same Dadd9 chord, the two choruses bracketed by the two verses)4. The song ends with an older man’s sad defiance, which loses strength each time he says it, until he gives up and lets the song expire in his place.

Recorded April-early May 1999, Seaview Studio, Bermuda, with overdubs at Looking Glass Studios and Chung King Studios, NYC. It was the first release from ‘Hours,’ issued on a promo giveaway with the 8-14 September 1999 issue of Les Inrockuptibles. Subsequently on ‘Hours’ and as a 2-CD single (Virgin 7243 8 96486 0 7, 7243 8 96487 0 6) released on 17 January 2000, which included Marius de Vries’ mix, the Walter Stern-directed video clip and a live performance of the song from the Elysée Montmartre, 14 October 1999. Performed on a host of TV and radio shows and played live in 1999, 2000 and 2002.

1: Eno told Mojo in May 1997 that he moved to Russia because “since London is now the hippest city in the world, I thought I’d get out for a bit…If you live in England and you finally scale the thorny path to celebrity, finally the critics decide, ‘Fuck me, he’s been around so long I guess we should leave him alone.’ You then find you get invited to do every stupid, pathetic thing going—you know, judge this competition, award this, and so on—and I just saw my life turning into a series of small events. I thought I’d go somewhere else where there aren’t any small events.”

2: Yeah, the official title of the album is ‘hours…’ I’ll refer to it simply as ‘Hours’ in all further references because the lower-case affectation irritates me and having to put in three ellipses every bloody time I mention the album would be a bother.

3: That said, the most obvious candidate for a Contamination leftover, the instrumental “Brilliant Adventure,” is confirmed by Bowie to have been written in Bermuda and was intended as part of the Omikron soundtrack.

4: Both verse and chorus open shuttling between tonic and flatted VII chords (so D to C in the verse, A to G in the chorus), darken midway through with a run of minor chords and each closes by setting up the opposing key (so the verse ends with a G that the A major opening of the chorus resolves; the chorus just sinks back to D).

Top: Thierry Gregorius, “Anloo wheat field, Holland, 1999″; Bowie receiving honorary doctorate from Berklee College of Music, May 1999; ‘Hours’ cover photos (Tim Bret Day); still from “Survive” video (Walter Stern); “Survive” CD sleeve.

78 Responses to Survive

  1. V Delay says:

    Excellent. I’m looking forward to a reappraisal of what for many is the (second) beginning of the end; that is to say the start of the so-called ‘neoclassical Bowie’ period (where did that phrase come from, I wonder?). Covert experimentation behind a clever mask of banality? I wouldn’t put it past him. ‘Toy’ is a clue, I suppose; and so is the hair (how I love that hair).
    v

    • gcreptile says:

      The gap between Earthling and hours… reminds me of the gap between Scary Monsters and Let’s Dance. Bowie dabbling in all sorts of side-projects, the conscious decision to begin another chapter, the loss of artistic weight.

  2. gcreptile says:

    Listening to “hours…” after the aural assault of 1. Outside and Earthling was …disappointing… to the 16-year old me. As I get older, I came to appreciate those songs a little more. Maybe a creative re-assessment is in order. I quite liked the video version of Survive. It was a little richer. It reached nr. 32 in the UK charts or something like that. I also liked the video itself. I think It’s about the wonders of an exhausted life. It plays well with this melancholic song. Maybe there’s still time to do another mistake…maybe it would be fun…

    • CosmicJive says:

      That’s exactly how I felt at the time of release. Now I can appreciate the album a lot more. It contains some good songs. If only the production been better…

  3. 87Fan says:

    I remember being underwhelmed, but not disappointed, with ‘hours…’ Part of it is the production: you used the word “muted” a few times in this article and that describes the production too. That said, this album has a couple of great songs – Something in the Air and If I’m Dreaming My Life, for example.

  4. david says:

    At various times during my life, any new Bowie product has oddly seemed sonically, to encapsulate what was going on in my personal life. Wether that’s something I attribute to the search for significant direction from false idols or whatever is still up for debate, but as an encapsulation-”Hours” was a summation of all the disappointment I was going through, as it appeared right the midst of the final death throes of my first marriage.
    So, If Bowie’s adoption of middle aged ennui was just more character play, it was scarily redolent for me at the time as a representative of looking down the barrel of wasted existence, wasted relationships, wasted opportunities.

    I’m thankful I came out the other side, happier and currently in the eighth blissful year of my second marriage,as well as being appreciative of the reminder this new chapter in your writing and reappraisal of that particular album gives me.

    Great prose as always.

  5. humanizingthevacuum says:

    Excellent write-up of what I consider one of the only OK tracks on Bowie’s worst nineties album. The sleeve, the hair, the bare feet, the hookless songs – ugh ugh.

  6. Roger L says:

    Very nice writeup of the song and more interestingly what this album meant to him – and to us – at this time. A secret parody? Brilliant. Thnks.

  7. “The question, left to each listener, is whether this mood is intentional: if the diminished figure in these songs is a subtle mask or if it’s simply the only voice Bowie could muster.”

    I’d argue that this album is Bowie inadvertently cutting his own tongue as he strains to write from the perspective of an “average guy”. Without the benefit of being able to draw on his own peculiar view of the world, his songwriting is suddenly forced to fall back on shopworn clichés. Between this and Bowienet, you could see him struggling to make himself more accessible, more relatable, more human, but just not… quite… getting there.

  8. Charlie S. says:

    I think the worse thing about this album is the artwork.

    Anyway, Whenever I hear or read that Gabrels was a shredder or could only make noise, I think about this album and in particular this song. He really makes what is quite a simple tune, memorable, by I’d argue giving the song it’s hooks and my favorite part of the track towards the end: ‘I’ll survive’/Reeves’ Guitar/’You’re Naked Eyes’

  9. MC says:

    I’m with Maj and other posters who have a real soft spot for Hours. I would reverse Sky-Possessing Spider’s opinion, though. For me, the opening brace of 5 tracks (or Side 1, if you will), whatever the flaws of production, arrangement, lyrics, are just a heart-wrenching suite of songs, nebulous though their origin may be. The remainder of the album, on the other hand, exhibits in spades the “Side 2″ problem that bedevils most of DB’s 90′s records. (There is one fairly rocking exception to this which we’ll get to later.) Where the home stretches of Outside and Earthling are maddening, torturous, though, most of the latter half of Hours for me justifies the album’s fairly dull reputation.

    Interestingly, I know more than a few people, non-Bowie obsessives all, who loved this record. My girlfriend, for one. I also once met an older female ex-fan, who loved DB in the early 70′s, then got off the bus after Station To Station (if you can imagine that). She was back in the fold briefly with Hours, then disliked Heathen and Reality, so she was out of the DB camp for good. I think you really have to have been on the album’s wavelength to like it, whether through circumstance of age, or being a longtime DB follower, with the accrual of nostalgia for his earlier work and persona(s) that suggests, or just a fan of his earlier songwriting, period. If your Bowie happened to be the Berlin-era experimentalist, or the manic rave grandad of Outside-Earthling vintage, then I could see this model Bowie seeming like cold refried beans by comparison.

    For the record, my feeling of exhaustion with much of Bowie’s “jungle” phase, coupled maybe with turning 30 left me more than open for the return of Bowie, “proper” songwriter. I found the gentle melancholia of these songs enormously affecting. I still play my favourite tracks from the album a lot, none more than this one. I’m in agreement with David Buckley that Survive could be a Bowie standard. Maybe one day it could be; it’s too bad that it disappeared through the cracks, though it’s understandable why. The sense of exhaustion was perhaps too palpable. An excellent piece, btw, though my appreciation of the song is a lot less qualified. I’d rank Survive with the very best of his 90′s output, songs like Untitled No. 1 and Thru’ These Architects Eyes.

    Sorry to prattle on. Looking forward to Hours entries. I find it a fascinating, neglected period. One last thought, though. Contra HTV, I think the hairstyle is one of DB’s best ever. :)

    • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

      I guess it’s a truism MC, that if you put a hundred people in a room you’ll get a hundred different opinions. Maybe my problem with the three songs I mentioned has something to do with Ididtheziggy’s assertion that Bowie can’t do the common man persona, which is perhaps better left to a Springsteen or a Neil Young. Or maybe, as many of the critics at the time said, it’s just dull songwriting. Either way, after a strong beginning with Thursday’s Child, I find that my attention just drifts off through Something In the Air, Survive, and If I’m Dreaming My Life. Alternately, the only dull track for me on the run home after this point is Brilliant Adventure, which sounds like a Heroes outtake twenty years too late. Thankfully though it’s a mercifully short little palette-cleanser before the epic closer The Dreamers. I don’t have a problem with Bowie having bare feet either -ha ha!

      • MC says:

        Yea, the feet are ok, agreed. I do think it’s one of DB’s lamer album covers, though.

      • The cover really screams late 90′s for me. :-)

      • Maj says:

        after hearing a live version of Something in the Air (not sure where I got it from, might find out when the entry for the song arrives) I realised I couldn’t listen to the studio version any more. It’s a good song, with plenty of tension but it comes off pretty anaemic on the album. I think it’s easy to drift off at that point.

      • Eder R. M. says:

        MC, I have to say I love the cover of hours! One of ***the best for me***, with some real meaning to it, instead of the traditional “just slap Bowie face on the cover and that’s it”.

  10. Edwin Montesinos says:

    I thought the title meaning was “the hours between the minutes”, because of the primes (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prime_(symbol)) between the word hours.

  11. Mr Tagomi says:

    Although i think the songs casting db as a regular guy show him in a slightly ill-fitting suit, my major quibble is that the Gabrels guitar seems incongruous in this sort of material (which, of course, is only one part of the album).

    Even when he’s dialing it down, sometimes it still seems a little bit too brash, to me anyway.

    The tension this creates in the music makes the album an odd experience for me. It’s impossible to really take these regular guy songs at face value. As always in db’s work, theres a layer of weirdness even when he’s trying to play it completely straight.

    I’ve listened to Hours from start to finish several times this week in anticipation of these entries. I’d not heard the full thing in years. It sounds much better than i remembered.

  12. Ididtheziggy says:

    I’ve been looking forward to this. hours… Was the first new release Bowie I purchased. Maybe it’s for that reason that I find myself an apologist for it, but hell, I like it. I like the idea of Bowie taking on a persona of the person he is supposed to be at this time of his life, it’s just a persona that would never fit him. Common man just isn’t Bowie. He is our alien rock god, coked out fascist crooner, international man about town, dystopian detective, etc. Everyman just doesn’t fit.

  13. s.t. says:

    Excellent write up of this strange new transition.

    I’d say that Outside was the real salvage job in the vein of Diamond Dogs. When you read about what those two albums were originally intended to be, you appreciate the compromises that ended up mutating a silly project into something more worthwhile.

    Hours just sounds confused to me. It’s an obvious patchwork effort.
    I actually tend to think of it of his Amnesiac (though I’m not implying that Earthling is a masterpiece like Kid A). Both sound like tarted up EPs, made from various leftover songs—which included B-sides that were just as good or sometimes better than what ended up on the album. The songs of both albums sound much better outside the confines of an album tracklist, and within a larger playlist that includes the B-sides.

    To continue my Radiohead comparisons, I think of Survive as Bowie’s Creep. Not in terms of career chronology of course, but it’s a bafflingly simplistic song by an artist capable of so much more, which is nonetheless enhanced by its guitarist struggling to find some voice within the oppressive confines of the song’s stiff structure. Reeves, the man I usually love to hate, actually lends some beauty, some wild gushy emotion to this thing with his playing, frustrated though he likely was with his limited role. Like with Creep, that guitar is the main draw for me. Otherwise, I’m confused, disappointed, irritated, or bored.

  14. Maj says:

    Will read through the comments tomorrow, it’s after midnight here.
    Interesting analysis, Chris. Thanks! Been looking fwd to the Hours era on this blog.

    What would I know what a 50-something alien-y rockstar meant by suddenly basically writing folk songs about being old and resigned…

    After Heathen this was the 2nd Bowie studio album I ever bought (on a cassette, bless) and listened to it quite a lot.
    I knew Seven from the radio but didn’t connect it to the Heathen guy/guy from the early 70′s part of the 3-part best of. And I thought that that was precisely what was cool about him. I was 15 and I heard it as an older guy being all melancholy and it was OK with me.

    I get why people who grew up with him in the 70′s or discovered him via Outside had problems with this turn but at that time it completely fell into place and before I could afford to get any music by one click & actually had to save money to buy cassettes and CDs I ended up listening to it a lot and liked a great deal of it. And I like folky Bowie.

    As for Survive…it’s an OK tune. Not the best song on the album, not the worst. Probably the weakest single from the album, for me. But good enough. Lyrics are kind of blah but hey, Bowie is not a great lyricist and I take this over some of his cut up nonsense. ;)
    The video is suitably strange for a Bowie song tho. So there’s that.

    Off to bed now before I start to ramble…Ta

    • Maj says:

      A few things I wanted to add but couldn’t last night…:

      As much as I listened to the album 11, 10 years ago I have to say I rarely do that now. Now I have a computer full of music…I usually choose an artist and just play all that I have by them in a completely random order, Bowie incl. (though I did have to create a loooong playlist for him because I own a lot of live stuff and general bootleg clutter,so I just had to separate the essential from the rest, still essential Bowie = a fuckloads of tracks). If I feel like listening to an album it’ll end up being Scary Monsters. I haven’t listened to Hours as a whole album in years.

      Last night I was maybe a bit too dismissive about Survive itself. I’ve had it stuck in my head since and it dawned on me I like it much more than I thought I did. :)

      Also calling the album folky is a bit misleading. How many actually folk-y songs are there? Survive and Seven?

      I’m with everyone who’s not into the “goopy synth polish” of the album. That was always my least favourite thing about it.

    • Diamond Duke says:

      Yeah, regarding that video…

      Was anyone else out there thinking the same thing I was? Namely, that after 30 years Major Tom still hadn’t quite gotten the hang of this zero-gravity thing? (Ha, ha, ha…) :D

      Oh…oh…just me then. [*slinks away quietly after lame attempt at humor falls flat*]

  15. This album has a special place in my heart, since it is the first one that came out when I began to closely follow David Bowie and his career. Surprisingly, I haven’t listened to it until recently and I see it as an afterparty album for when you have a broken beer bottle in one hand and a bunch of regrets in another. It is not a bad record, but it is way too nice and maybe that is the problem. Bowie never makes just nice records, he always adds something more. If you want nice records, go to Elton John. :-)
    Still, I like songs on this record. Survive is for me like a fine slice of melancholy. The lyrics may fluctuate between cliches and astute observations, but the song as a whole works. The video is also great and if I am not mistaken, it was his last for quite a while (He did no videos for Heathen and Reality, right?).
    There is also another thing which may sound off topic, but let us say Bowie would jump into another style just like he did for Earthling (album I like to call Young Europeans). What would that style be? What could it be? Should Bowie work with Santana who was popular at the time? Or some rap and rock combination? (I am not gonna mention the bands and besmirch the blog with their presence, do not worry. I am still ashamed I listened to them. :-) ).

    • s.t. says:

      Earlier I had thanked the stars that Bowie never latched onto that dreadful late 90′s trend of “nu-metal.” I may not love Hours, but I’ll take one hundred versions of Survive over one collaboration with Fred Durst!

      I can’t say I could recommend any trend from that time. By far the coolest stuff was the more experimental electronic works from Warp Records, but Radiohead and Bjork were already jumping on those sounds; Bowie would have been behind the curve.

      The move toward lush sounds and prominent acoustic guitar was smart, especially as a contrast to the huge wave of overproduced maximalist pop and rock of that time. But Hours suffers from its own reliance on goopy synth polish and flanger effects. This should have been his moment to “go Albini” and strip away all but the essentials.

      He never went that route, but at least he went for a more tasteful approach to polished pop production on Heathen.

      • Mr Tagomi says:

        Yes, i also think the ‘goopy synth polish’ is one of the less attractive aspects of the album.

      • humanizingthevacuum says:

        “The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell” isn’t nu-metal but it’s unseemly and garish.

      • Hm, I kinda like goopy synth polish of the record, to be honest. It is goofy, true, yet it gives the album its identity. I feel it might be too anonymous without it. As I have said before, I sort of like Hours, even though it is a painfully mediocre record for Bowie.

      • s.t. says:

        I can’t say I dig the “goop,” but I kind of like the garishness of “Pretty Things” that HTV speaks of. It’s unseemly in the way that Tin Machine used to be. Embarrassing, to be sure, but kind of fun…and at least it sounds like he was trying!

      • That is the key point – at least he was trying. I always say that I like Bowie for not succumbing to all sorts of ills that plague old rockers (for instance he never did an album of jazz standards or orchestral versions of his old hits). Hours was probably the closest thing to an old rocker album he did, yet he still managed to put his stamp on it. It was not that strong, though.

    • Eder R. M. says:

      I agree wholeheartedly Mitja Lovsche! … hours has a special place in my heart too, for the same reasons :) Good to see I’m not alone.

  16. MC says:

    Believe it or not, a couple of things I forgot to add in my epic posting, more to do with the song itself:

    1) I wanted to second Charlie S. in his opinion of Gabrels’ playing on the track. Beautifully-constructed and sung as Survive is, it might be Reeves’ work that really makes it. The way his guitar serves the song and lyric is for me reminiscent of George Harrison at his finest.

    2) Chris, one part of your analysis that particularly resonated for me was the Nick Drake comparison. I got into Drake in a big way in the year or so after Hours’ release (as did a lot of people: remember, 2000 was the year of the Pink Moon Volkswagen ad). It’s occurred to me that DB’s temperature shift on this record might have softened me up for the gentler sounds of Nick, which was quite a shift from the raucousness of a lot of the 90′s music I had been listening to, from both sides of the Atlantic.

    3) There’s this strain of English melancholia exemplified by Nick Drake, Morrissey, and others that Bowie only tapped into occasionally. It is that strain, more than just the acoustic guitars that links this record and the Beckenham albums in my mind. Would it be a stretch to say that Hours might have been DB’s last “English” album?

    I will bring my ramblings to a close by saying in particular how brilliant the comparison to One Of These Things First is. Never quite occurred to me before, except perhaps subliminally.

    • s.t. says:

      Yes, the late 90′s were when I discovered the works of Nick Drake and Jeff Buckley, and caught wind of the likes of Elliot Smith and Bell & Sebastian. In these soft and delicate songs, I found respite from the synthetic sensationalism that plagued the era.

      But to me, as mentioned below, Hours was and is just as guilty of sensationalism. The production, for instance is very late 90′s (as is the cover art). Nick Drake helped me escape stuff like this.

  17. Mike F says:

    You are reading way too much into this if you think Hours is a “secret parody.” I think it’s clear what happened. Bowie felt like he exhausted his techno/industrial cut-up songwriting approach. At the same time, everyone was telling him Hunky Dory was a masterpiece. So he thought he’d dust off the old acoustic guitar and write some good, old fashioned songs . Unfortunately, he came up with a bunch of tired, middle-aged moaning. The inspiration just wasn’t there. Bowie needs a fantastic scenario to spark his imagination. He doesn’t do “real life” well.

    I read a very candid interview with Reeves about Hours who felt angry that Bowie was messing up “his” album, making it too VH1 instead of rocking like MTV. I don’t know if the interview is still anywhere on the net.

  18. Sky-Possessing Spider says:

    Although Chris’s comparison between “Survive” and “One Of These Things First” is an interesting one, if we were to take Bowie at his word, it’s unlikely that Nick Drake would have been an influence on his songwriting. I remember reading an interview with Bowie where he said that somebody sent him a Nick Drake compilation album, and it never found its’ way out of the cellophane shrink-wrap.
    I have a passing interest in Nick Drake. I particularly like Bryter Later.

  19. Diamond Duke says:

    ‘hours…’

    Tsk, tsk there, Chris! You see? You see?! Not only did I not capitalize the ‘H’ and kept the three ellipses, but I also went to the trouble of putting it in both italics AND boldface. Maybe I just have a higher threshold for that kind of anal degree of titular propriety than you do. Oh well… ;)

    Anyhoo then, regarding David Bowie’s ‘hours…’…

    Yeah, yeah, okay, I know. I’m enjoying this waaaaaaayyy too freaking much… [*AHEM!*]

    I think that if ‘hours…’ is a throwback to anything in Bowie’s earlier catalogue, it’s 1969′s Space Oddity. The folkier, more melodic feel of the songs and the presence of acoustic guitars definitely represent a partial throwback to Bowie’s “hippie” era. Bowie himself has even said as much. And like Space Oddity, both albums are what you might call “a mixed bag.” Another interesting point of comparison would be Tin Machine II. The songs on the first Tin Machine album had more of a looser, thrashier and jammier feel, but the second album was where the David Bowie/Reeves Gabrels songwriting firm really started to show what it was capable of in songs such as Baby Universal, Shopping For Girls, Amlapura and Betty Wrong. Both albums make for a very eloquent case for the defense in case of Reeves Gabrels, proving beyond doubt that he’s not simply a wannabe-avant noisemonger, he’s a very underrated and underappreciated songwriting craftsman. (The B-side We All Go Through could definitely have fit onto TM2 quite seamlessly, having much in common with that album’s gentler moments.)

    And Survive is probably my favorite song from Bowie’s “neo-classic” period, and certainly my favorite from ‘hours…’. (:D :D :D) I actually have a strong bias in favor of the Marius DeVries remix which (if I’m not mistaken) was released as the official single. As much as I admire Gabrels’ playing on the album track, I simply love the disoriented, “spacy” vibe of this alternate version, as well as those “la-la-la-la-la” background vocals during the outro. (BTW, I think that during the Heathen tour, Survive was the only song from ‘hours…’ to make it into the setlist.)

    Regarding Greil Marcus’ comments regarding the liberal usage of the word “survivor” in our culture…I personally think his comments come across as somewhat smug and superior. (And that’s a sin that’s shared by far. far too many in Marcus’ profession for my liking.) As much as the word tends to be overused, I think that it tends to be used (admittedly rather generally) as a way of describing someone who somehow manages to endure the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and generally being buffeted about by the winds of change – whether they be personal/individual or cultural/collective – and comes out the other side sadder but wiser, with scars either physical or emotional but definitely with a fascinating story to tell. Bowie’s own Changes notwithstanding, human beings generally don’t handle change with much grace or wisdom (or even with their original sense of values and ethics intact), so when someone is able to make it through, they’re more than just a little entitled to use the “survivor” moniker.

    I also agree with Mike F. with regards to Chris’ “secret parody” reading of ‘hours…’ (:D :D :D) I hear the album and just think that Bowie’s starting to feel his age, and that his music is starting to reflect it. It’s fully conceivable that one can take this man’s work at face value at least some of the time without overthinking things too much… ;)

    • Are you reading my mind, Diamond Duke? I had a similar album of comparison for Hours (sorry, no titular propriety from me :-) ), although I also saw this album as a glimpse into an alternate history – what if Bowie stopped doing music after Space Oddity and then returned to it 30 years later? I feel that the hypothetical album would be similar to Hours. Still, that would also mean that we would have no Ziggy, no Rebel, no Station, no Low etc. Man, that would be terrible.

  20. Stolen Guitar says:

    I don’t know; I’m trying, I really am trying to be generous and gracious and forgiving…but I just cannot square the circle here between this and the glories of the past. What’s going on? This is evidence of a great artist in decline (albeit not terminal, thankfully as the records to follow will attest) but this really is a low.

    There’s been some counter-revolutionary talk here in the UK after our year of Bowie saturation and I, for one, don’t think it’s a bad thing to criticise appropriately when appropriate criticism is due.

    This is a bad record. Forget who, or what, you’re comparing it to but by Bowie’s standards it’s exceedingly poor. I just don’t see how, after experiencing the majesty of the earlier work, you could possibly sit down and listen to this in its entirety. I understand that Chris is providing a critical perspective here with all the objective and rational restraint that is absolutely required when providing such a service…but the rest of you, the fans, listeners, fellow critics? Call a spade a spade for once and tell it like it is! We’re all fellow travellers here, and I’m as much of a Bowie fan as anyone else but really; where is our honesty? Where is our critical faculty, based on the empirical evidence before us?

    I know this is a Bowie site for Bowie fans but I do feel as a reader and observer and occasional contributor to this place that we don’t really serve our interest and our subject well. His records of the 70s are unimpeachable but the later stuff is patchy at best and, if you really want to have an argument, I would suggest that Springsteen, Costello and Prince have shone, albeit less brightly, for a consistently longer period than our David.. But…I love him more than any of the aforesaid.

    I just think we need to be more honest in our appraisal of his (late)work. I think the Bowie doubters and naysayers love it when we try to defend, in an ‘emperor’s new clothes’ style, records like ‘Hours’ and ‘Never Let Me Down’. It doesn’t do his legacy any good when we try to find a positive here; I would suggest steering the doubters towards …well, you know where!

    Still, you’re an inspirational bunch and I’m grateful to you all for reawakening a love that was dormant. Can’t wait for the book form, Chris, and it goes without saying that this is a cut above the rest.

    Looking forward to the response to ‘Slow Burn’…surely his swansong?

    • s.t. says:

      It sounds like your opinion of Hours is not too far from mine, but I’m gonna offer some polite pushback to your assertion that only the strictest standards for aesthetic evaluation will best serve our interest and our subject.

      It’s true that the doubters and non-obsessive fans will tend to adhere to the consensus that Bowie’s golden years lasted until 1980, and will never come back. There’s a very strong argument to be made here, and almost no one will disagree that that his run from Man Who Sold the World to Scary Monsters was a real Midas streak in terms of inspiration and execution.

      But we really shouldn’t forget that aesthetic evaluations are fundamentally subjective. And most importantly, the real rewarding thing about art is that very process of evaluation, that critical engagement with evoked meaning and feeling.

      So, yes, I have major problems with Hours, and especially a song like Survive. I can easily label it trite, embarrassing, and better-left-ignored. But where’s the fun in that? Reading opinions here of people who really like the material gives me a chance to examine myself and my standards, and helps me to appreciate nuggets of inspiration hidden within works that I’d otherwise dismiss. I think it’s important to examine artistic failures, especially once we have enough time and distance to be able to assess fairly. Why exactly are they failures? What might others see in the work?

      The official narrative of Bowie’s artistic rise and decline is of course “correct,” but it’s also kind of flat to me. I like the messy back and forth that a blog like this offers, even for the less impressive chapters.

      • Stolen Guitar says:

        Point taken, s.t., and I’m in general agreement with you on all the points you raise about subjectivity, time and distance and critical engagement but…this is David Bowie we’re talking about here and I hold him up to much higher standards than I would for anyone else. Momus elucidates my feeling perfectly when he wrote, ‘I was only reacting that way because for me DB had to be the best, and had to be “at least two steps ahead”, and I couldn’t stand it when he wasn’t.’,

        Of course, a blog such as this is always going to be subject to subjective interpretation-how could it not be?-and Chris does a terrific job of laying the groundwork with his exhaustive research and great prose but I guess I’m just surprised at the almost pitiful reactions we sometimes display here in defence of the sometimes downright indefensible! I mean no personal offence here, by the way, to yourself and all the other equally erudite and worthy commenters but…

        …It’s a big world and there’s room for most opinions and I do value the knowledgeable and insightful comments that are very frequently aired here. Perhaps it’s my failing; after all, I was born before post-modernism (ha-ha!) and I can’t quite cope with a world absent of absolutes!

        Thanks for your considered response; I will try harder!

      • s.t. says:

        Hey, as I said, the back and forth is what it’s all about! For sure, one way out of the fog of postmodernism is to look for common truths, though an overly rigid concern for shared truth of course leads to more tribal splintering. So, a balance is ideal. We can talk about consensus and “societal impact,” while also feeling free to dig what we dig.

        Only a few months ago, my bile-o-meter would have been turned to 10 if someone had asked for my thoughts on Hours. Just like you and Momus, it had had a crushing effect on my spirit upon release. And even though I slowly warmed to Heathen and Reality, those old feelings of embarrassment and exhausted bewilderment toward Hours never really diminished.

        Chris’ blog, in concert with the grand return of the Dame after so many years, has prompted me to reassess the entire catalog, especially those dodgier patches: 67, 84-93, and 99. The general trend is the same: while my ‘official’ judgment of the works relative to his best (and to other music I know) remains unchanged, my visceral reaction is cooler, and I’m more receptive to stuff that I can nonetheless knowingly label as “mediocre” or “an artistic failure.”

        To this day, I find songs like New Angels of Promise and The Dreamers to be crucially undercooked, but I can now savor the better aspects of those songs (while still wishing that more fully realized versions were secretly recorded and finally leaked).

        To be sure, how any of us will treat “lesser” music depends on our other life factors. If someone’s new to Bowie, I can’t imagine anyone here recommending Hours as an introduction (if that person exists, we could probably, by consensus, label them insane). Even for music aficionados, dipping into Tonight or Hours means taking time away from Aladdin Sane…or Tago Mago/Rid of Me/Tango Zero Hour/etc. If music listening time is a commodity, then I’m with the group that says Pretty Things et al. can go to Hell.

        But for those with the interest to do so, I believe it can be enriching to get your hands dirty and confront those aesthetic gnomes once in a while. They may be ugly, but sometimes they can dance magic dance, or at very least chilly down. :)

      • sidthecat says:

        My take on Hours is a lurking sense of monotony; all the songs seem to sound the same. His groove somehow became a rut.

    • Bruised Passivity says:

      It seems to me, as an outside observer of this discussion, that the passion to defend any genre of Bowie’s as superior is the result of emotional nostalgia. For better or worse, it creates an emotional bias that influences our judgements. Not saying anyone is right or wrong, just something to keep in mind when reading each other’s comments.

      • s.t. says:

        True! If we can’t laugh at ourselves and our nearly tribal loyalty to certain combinations of sound, we’ll be headed down that dark road that eventually leads to the YouTube comments section.

    • col1234 says:

      Eder:

      You are close to being the first person in two years I’ve banned from this blog. Your opinions are not more valid than others’, and presuming that people who disagree with you are lying to themselves is the epitome of bad-faith arguing. Accept that people disagree with you, make the case for why you think their argument (not them, personally) is wrong. Do not attack them for disagreeing with you. Do not respond to every single person’s comment by making the same argument that you previously made. And most of all, do not tell me what I can and cannot write.

  21. Momus says:

    I’ve held DB to an impossibly high standard because he appeared to me in my teens (ie the 1970s, his “imperial” phase) to be the most creative and cool person alive: the ultimate hipster and the ultimate artist. I integrated that avatar into my aspirations for myself (are you listening, doctor?) so thoroughly that when he was uncool and uncreative I felt personally ashamed, somehow.

    In the late 90s, for me, the creative and cool album of reference was Fantasma by Cornelius. And although I’d bought every Bowie album before it, Hours was a record I chose not to buy, in case it dragged me creatively down a slippery slope to mediocrity. In fact, I’ve hardly heard anything Bowie recorded between 1999 and 2003. Why bother, when even rejected songs from the Imperial phase (Alternative Candidate) outstripped them?

    Bowie answered that question in interviews: younger bands influenced by him (he cited Travis) were watching carefully to see how rockers aged.

    Certainly visually Bowie was aging very well indeed. Seeing the Survive video I felt that Bowie had become a French singer, a sort of Johnny Halliday, vaunting his lupine charm over FM-friendly classic rock. Looking good for his age, but creatively in the wilderness.

    Of course there’d been Low, which also made a virtue of desultory feelings. But Low pulled off its melancholia by being terrifically cool, setting the ghost of Syd Barrett in a newly-exciting European landscape in which New Wave is not only happening but being invented right there on the record. Low had The Man Who Fell To Earth powering its scenarios, whereas Hours has Il Mio West and some comic TV cameos.

    I can understand the need to do what Beck did with Sea Change, to tone down the bang-crash-wallop, to create a character who allows melancholy without drawing accusations of rockstar sour grapes and “first world problems”. (You’re growing old? Well, those children putting camel shit on the walls are dead already.) And the Omikron version of the song has some sort of charm. But Stolen Guitar is right: Bowie is an artist with range, and some of that range is him veering into mawkish dilutions best ignored.

    That said, I’m curious to hear a lot of this material here for the first time. I was probably too harsh at the time. I can be a bit of a puritan. I was only reacting that way because for me DB had to be the best, and had to be “at least two steps ahead”, and I couldn’t stand it when he wasn’t.

  22. Ramzi says:

    I see this album as an essential stepping stone from Earthling (the culmination of his 90′s experimentation) to (what I believe to be) the latter-day masterpiece that is Heathen.

    As for the content of the album, for what it is I think it’s very good. Although I don’t think any musician wants the word “nice” attached to their work, Hours is a nice album. Bowie clearly isn’t striving to make his best work here, it’s an extremely relaxed album: this can be seen beyond the album itself to the aesthetics of Bowie in 1999, wearing very pedestrian clothing (for the first time since the late 70′s on stage?), a pleasant haircut and no earrings..the album was made in the Bahamas for Christ’s sake, how relaxed do you want?

    It’s very much the album someone Bowie’s age should’ve made, and fortunately for us Bowie only made one of them (it’s nice and all but imagine a decade of it).

    (by the way I’m only disappointed the Outside sequels never got made because of the names…an album actually titled “Afrikaans”! Imagine!)

    • Eder R. M. says:

      To my ears, in Heathen, Bowie was just trying too hard to sound like his “classic self” from the 70′s, to “fabricate” a new record. He was eager to find again the “formulae” of his success back then.

      I can almost see the patterns in which the songs are really trying to convince about how good they are. Hours at least, sounds like a sincere effort. In hours, Bowie was being his current Bowie. In Heathen, he was trying to impersonate himself, and for me it do not worked at all.

  23. Roman says:

    Angie Bowie has said that most of Hours is about her.

    • Mike F says:

      Because the lyrics to Survive reference “Beatle boys,” I suspect this love affair happened in the 60s. In other words, this is more likely another Letter To Hermione rather than a Letter To Angie.

      I often find bad Bowie albums have bad cover art. This one is, in my opinion, his worst cover art since Never Let Me Down. With the Hours cover, Bowie demonstrates what Wham! would have looked like if they stayed together in the techno era. :)

      • Sky-Possessing Spider says:

        Oh I don’t know. “Reality” had the worst cover art of all time, yet it was a pretty fine album.

    • Ramzi says:

      I wouldn’t put it past Angie Bowie to claim Ode on a Grecian Urn was about her.

  24. Mother says:

    Magnificent write up as always.
    The muted feel of the album made me wonder if the enigmatic songwriting genius who set the rock scene ablaze in the 70s was still with us (now he is obviously with The Next Day). Hours however, for me, is disappointing not through pretension or over-ambition or trying to be down with the hipsters but through time-honored sub-standard songwriting.

  25. tinmachine1 says:

    Hearing the four new songs on the deluxer-than-deluxe edition of The Next Day last night, it seems my default reaction to the emergence of new Bowie is to wonder when Chris’ll get round to them, and what he’ll have to say.

    My second reaction? Happy to have them, but perhaps Informer aside glad they remained b-sides.

    The Venetian mix of I’d Rather Be High? I laughed out loud when I realised quite how literally the title was being realised. I haven’t read a thing about this online (Visconti was quiet about this one in the NME it seems) but I’d love to know why someone thought this needed to exist. The vibe reminded me, most immediately, of Ocky Milk-era Momus (which is my favourite of his albums).

    • Mike says:

      I like the Love Is Lost remix, but the rest of the Extra tracks are pretty extra to me. And that Venetian mix… hard to listen to.

  26. tinmachine1 says:

    And credit to Bowie for the manoeuvre pulled on Like a Rocket Man, channeling The Beatles by seemingly singing as both Lennon and McCartney simultaneously.

    • Momus says:

      Like A Rocket Man is about 1000 times more impressive than Survive. But we’re getting ahead of the storyline.

      • Eder R. M. says:

        I hate when people make statements like that for subjective things, like, you see, art.

        For me, Like a Rocket Man it’s not better in any conceivable universe than Survive. Survive sounds sincere, mellow, reflexive, touching, warming and depressing at the same time.

        Like a Rocket Man, both lyrics and music, is just a giant joke that never quite works. Very B-side material, as it turned out to be.

  27. sidthecat says:

    It strikes me that Mr. Bowie trying to write from the point-of-view of “an average guy” is doomed from the start: Mr. Bowie is at his best when he embraces exceptionalism – to the point of Messianic fantasy.

  28. Bruised Passivity says:

    So we finally made it to ‘hours…’ and its first single Survive, now what write that hasen’t already been discussed. I actually like this album, despite it’s being uneven and mediocre because of it’s more muted and stripped down nature. After the overbearing auditory input of Earthling, I find hours to be a cleansing. As to Survive (I to am partial to the Marius DeVries version) my best description would be pleasant… which I feel is an odd descriptor for a Bowie song but that’s all I can come up with. I do, however, love the video. Referencing something s.t. wrote above about the “insanity” of new-to-Bowie folks being presented with this album an intro made me laugh because I am one of those newbbies. I only began my interest (and now obsession) with Bowie only few years ago. While I was aware of him as a singer, my main exposure to hi mm having been Modern Love, Let’s Dance and Labyrinth, I didn’t know much else. When I sustained a back injury two years ago and was bed ridden for nearly 8 months, I thought I would lose my mind without something new to focus on. That’s when I heard I’m Afraid of Americans for the first time and my curiosity was peaked. I set myself the goal of listening to every single piece of music ever written by Bowie as a way to entertain myself. So I laughed when s.t. wrote what he did because the first album I randomly selected to listen to was NLMD! LOL and yet, despite that experience, I am still a fan.

    • s.t. says:

      Wow, one of the few people for whom the title of that ’87 gem is not imbued with a sense of cruel irony. Cheers to your persistent curiosity!

  29. Peter Ramsey says:

    It’s an absolutely lovely song.

  30. Brendan O'Lear says:

    I’ve arrived a little late to this particular party. I’ve never really heard Tonight, Never Let Me Down, Tin Machine or the later Iggy Pop stuff so for me Hours has always been the great unforgivable in the Bowie story.
    However, I’m intrigued by Chris’s secret parody line. I feel a bit like a judge in a formulaic courtroom drama. The prosecution is up on its feet screaming “Objection!” The judge clasps his hands together, looks pensive for a moment and reluctantly says “I’m going to allow you to continue Mr O’Leary but I’m warning you … secret parody indeed!”
    At least up to this point my view of Hours is that there’s nothing wrong with him writing about an ‘average guy with regrets’ but there’s a lot wrong with David Bowie coming up average writing. For Bowie the bar has always been set much higher than for others, but for me this doesn’t even reach the bar that others would consider mediocre.
    I hope the case for the defence is made.

    • Ididtheziggy says:

      There’s the rub, I guess. The one thing Bowie fans won’t suffer is mediocrity. Even the biggest ‘Hours’ apologist would have a hard time arguing that much of it isn’t mediocre. Still, I listen to ‘hours’ far more than I do “Earthling”, but I wouldn’t argue its a better album. Just more to my taste, or rather, more to the mood I’m in more often.

      • Brendan O'Lear says:

        I don’t think it’s just his fans. At the end of his 50th birthday bash, he gives that speech ending with “I promise I won’t bore you.” I, for one, find chunks of “Hours” unmemorable to say the least.

    • Mr Tagomi says:

      I’m not sure about Hours being an intentional parody, but I do think the quotidian (great word) elements of this song and parts of the album are completely deliberate.

      And quotidian fare has its place. Nothing at all wrong with using it to achieve an effect or make a statement.

      Bowie has chosen a persona/setting, on “Side A” anyway, for better or for worse (actually a bit of both, I think).

      I do not agree at all with those who consider this song mediocre.

      For some reason the arrangement or the production or something does not seem quite right to me, but the song itself I like.

    • Eder R. M. says:

      I’d rather have another hours and Heaten. In Heathen, he was just trying too hard to sound like his “classic self” from the 70′s, to “fabricate” a new record. Hours at least, sounds a sincere effort.

  31. Remco says:

    It’s a good song for the brokenhearted. I had a big breakup around the time this album came out and ‘Survive’ became a kind of a theme song for that period. So this is a special one for me, although I’m fairly certain I liked it before it meant anything to me.
    It’s a lovely melody and the singing is pretty enough to make me forgive the occasional bum line.

    Lovely post by the way, even if i don’t agree with your judgment.

  32. Tony Tinkrams Bed says:

    When im in those moods, i like hours very much.

  33. Eder R. M. says:

    Hours and the Omikron soundtrack, when I was at the age of 17, is what hooked to Bowie, what made me want to go backwards in music hisrory and know all his work.

    Even the songs I didn’t like at all had an aura of… mystery, of things left out there to be discovered, that I couldn’t resist. Also, people always said I seemed like and old person in the body of a youngling, so it just seems fit that I was grabbed by the hours “persona” :P

    Plus Survive is one of the most beautiful songs I ever heard. Of course, not in a “classic Bowie” way, but it seems so… sincere, so tender in its aching… I do love it.

  34. Freddy Freeloader says:

    I’m surprised at the strength and number of negative comments – after NLMD, BTWN, TMx3 I feel grateful if any new album or song isn’t outright bad, but for me Survive is *not* bad. I always liked the sound of it, but never really got the meaning – I can’t say I get it now, but this page has certainly helped, made me go back to it and pay more attention this time.

    But the reason for this comment is something which has been troubling me for a couple of days. Bowie albums grow and deepen with repeated listening. And the comments here show it’s possible for someone to think hours is the bottom of the pile.

    So do I really have to go back and give NLMD another chance? It seems hard to believe that DB would waste his time putting out an album of pointless crap, yet that is what I’ve been telling myself since the one listen I gave it back in 1987. (And then do I have to go back and actually listen with both ears to the dozen or so Dylan albums that seemed unlistenable?)

    It would be a lot easier of course without the 80s drums all over NLMD.

    As for the cover, well, I like it a hell of a lot more than The Next Day’s.

    • s.t. says:

      The album of pointless crap isn’t NLMD, it’s Tonight. The former is a miss despite some effort made, but the latter is almost totally barren of ideas or effort. I listen to Tonight for the two singles, and *sometimes* the title track and Tumble and Twirl (I love Alomar’s guitar). The rest is just painful. Much more of NLMD is listenable, some of it inspired, though it all starts to run together by the end.

      I rank Hours pretty darn low among Bowie albums, but I’d much rather listen to it than plenty of other albums, like Bryan Ferry’s “Frantic,” that recent Byrne/Eno collaboration, and even Kate Bush’s “Aerial” (though maybe that deserves a reconsideration).

      • Maj says:

        Well I might be one of those who actually likes Hours, or at least parts of it, but I sure prefer Frantic (maybe) and Aerial (definitely Aerial!!!) over it. So I’ll just pretend I’ve never read the above, otherwise doubt might set in and I’ll think my taste needs rearranging!

    • s.t. says:

      Well, to be fair to those albums, they have not been subjected to any real efforts of re-evaluation, unlike all of Bowie’s albums. I need to give them more of a listen to really make a fair assessment (especially Disc 2 of Aerial, I can’t even hum any songs from that one!).

      Still, like others posting here, I’m more drawn to my lesser Bowie songs than those of others artists I love. Frantic was a good album, but I don’t really give time to “good” Bryan Ferry albums (sorry about that Bryan…but I did think your Olympia was “very good”). Maybe I’m a little more generous with David Byrne, but even when he makes an “interesting failure” (Here Lies Love), I am not so interested in it. And yet I go back to Tin Machine.

      Regardless, I do love revisiting and re-evaluating my tastes every so often. It’ll happen eventually for those other albums, but the VIP members get priority!

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