Counting the 'hours...' with David Bowie

L-R: Reeves Gabrels, Alex Grant and David Bowie
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Kevin Mazur/WireImage

The cover of David Bowie's 'hours...' is unsurprisingly striking: a contemplative, longer-haired Bowie cradles the resting visage of the singer from his last album, 1997's Earthling, in his lap. After a striking, electronic sound on that album, Bowie was ready to relax a bit.

That relaxation and preparedness is apparent throughout the mix. The singer admitted he came into sessions with finished songs - something he rarely did at the time - and spent the final mixing sessions stripping more and more away from the record, opting for a mellower, acoustic sound. And Bowie wasn't the only one pushing him in that direction: longtime guitarist Reeves Gabrels pushed back against an idea to have R&B trio TLC contribute backing vocals to lead single "Thursday's Child." (Their disagreements throughout the sessions, while not angry, led to Gabrels leaving Bowie's band shortly after the album was released.)

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Beyond the sound of 'hours...', Bowie found himself taking an interesting step back while producing music videos for the album. Admitting in interviews he tired of making them, "Thursday's Child" featured Bowie interacting with actor Owen Beasley, whose made-up features resembled a younger version of the singer, jokingly deemed "Version 1.01" of Bowie. (An abandoned video for single "The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell" featured a series of mannequins dressed as previous incarnations of Bowie; some of them were dusted off for a video to "Love is Lost" more than a decade later.)

But 'hours...', like most Bowie projects, is hardly a resting on past glories. Many of the songs first ended up in an ambitious work that the singer and his band were part of in the summer of 1999: Omikron: The Nomad Soul, an ambitious adventure video game. (Bowie, his wife Iman, Gabrels and bassist Gail Ann Dorsey all appeared as characters in the game.) Another song ("What's Really Happening?") was created in a most unique way: Bowie, an early adopter of the Internet, encouraged fans to submit lyrics as part of a contest on his website. The winner, Alex Grant, had the honor of being in the studio as Bowie worked on the song - even adding backing vocals to the finished track.

All in all - as the track which gives Bowie's forthcoming box set its name - 'hours...' proved to be another brilliant adventure in a career simply full of them.

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