22. Hours… (1999)

The bulk of Bowie’s later material has seen him in a holding pattern in terms of relative quality. Some albums are incrementally better (Reality), some are worse (this one), but they’re basically comparable: well-executed, thoughtful but not especially memorable records that are unlikely to blow the minds of anyone besides the most devoted. For shits and giggles I took a look through a pile of Amazon reviews to test my unnamed theory of forgettable consistency: sure enough, virtually every album from Black Tie White Noise onward has exactly 4 stars. (Outside and The Next Day break the mold with 4.5 stars each). In the vaguest sense I suppose this confirms my theory (hooray, validation), but the real takeaway is that Bowie superfans are serious apologists. Not to put too much weight on an arbitrary aggregated review system from an online retailer, but c’mon. Hours… is not a 4-star record. No way, no how. Abandoning the electro-fetishism of Outside and Earthling in favor of organic, straightforward pop-rock circa 1999, the results range from decent to dull, maybe occasionally irritating. Like everything he’s done, it has its moments: the drop-tempo crooning that closes “If I’m Dreaming My Life” has a certain something, but it’s not enough to erase the first 4 minutes of the song. Meanwhile we get non-gems like “The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell,” whose title channels the classic Stooges song with a similar name while seemingly copping cybertronic guitar tones from Orgy — it ain’t pretty. According to Wikipedia (blessed Wikipedia), Hours… marks the beginning of Bowie’s “Neoclassicist” stage, which may or may not be a real thing, but it sounds right. In the words of one of the 4-star-granting Amazon reviewers, Hours… is “a mature album by a mature man.”

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