David Bowie: Rock's Artful Dodger Picks Own Pocket

David Bowie - 'hours...'
(Virgin Records)
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)

Story by Tony Bonyata

David Bowie, rock's ever evolving Artful Dodger, is up to his old tricks again as he pilfers through old material and synthesizes it into something that is uniquely his own. He's cheekily lifted from T. Rex and Lou Reed in the past to create his early seventies glam alter-ego Ziggy Stardust, flagrantly pinched American soul music in 1975 and then, just 2 years later, befriended Brian Eno so he could pick his brain for ambient influences which resulted in his masterpiece Low. He sold it all for fame in the eighties at the cost of his art, only to break through his creative doldrums with his hard-headed rock band Tin Machine which nodded to both Cream and Hendrix. In the early nineties he turned to an upbeat form of techno-jazz on Black Tie White Noise. His last album Earthling saw the Thin White Duke spiking his own eclectic blend of rock with a hip urban edge of techno-jungle and drum-and-bass heisted from the turntables of London's underground clubs.
If all the looting of musical styles was an offense then Bowie would certainly be on death row. Bowie's acts of grand theft come off more like petty thievery, however, after he covers them with his own glossy sheen, similar to a stolen bike with a coat of fresh paint.
With his constant reinventions of himself and his music it becomes even harder to pin down what he's going to do next, or who or what it will be that influences him. On his latest release 'hours...' Bowie is once again caught red-handed, but the victim this time is himself, as he elegantly borrows from his own past covering up his tracks just enough to throw off any leads to his crime.
Where style has sometimes overshadowed substance in his latter recordings, 'hours...' , his twenty third solo album to date, is more of a return to his earlier days where song structure and melody were first and foremost. Both the acoustic flavored numbers "Survive" and "Seven", which are some of the most beautiful songs he's written in decades, hearken back to his androgynous alien at a folk festival period of Hunky Dory. The brooding and detached "New Angels Of Promise" as well as the Asian-laced ambient instrumental "Brilliant Adventure" would have fit comfortably on his experimental 1978 album Heroes, while the aggro-metal of "The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell", which was included in the recent soundtrack from the movie Stigmata, resurrects the angst of his short lived band Tin Machine with it's snarling guitars and bullying rhythm.
Other than longtime guitarist Reeves Gabrels, who sparkles throughout the album with his highly textured guitar sonics, Bowie has enlisted a new and powerful band, which includes Mark Plati (bass), Mike Leveque (drums) and guest guitarist Chris Haskett, that casts a post-modern illumination to his delves into the past.
While his lyrics have often been fragmented, hazy glimpses into imagery and fantasy, Bowie instead wears his inner emotions, which deal with love, loss and regret, on his sleeve, offering us possibly the closest thing to the man as we've ever known.
Always on the cutting edge of technology (he was the first recording artist to release an interactive cd-rom, had the first downloadable single on the Internet with his drum-n-bass number "Telling Lies", and offered the world's first artist-created Internet service provider with "BowieNet"), Bowie once again leads the pack as he is making 'hours...' the first fully downloadable album on the Internet, a full two weeks before it hits retail stores.
Carefully balancing his prolific career on the fringe between outsider art, real-time technology and Top 40 mainstream, he has finally realized that there may be no better influence on Bowie than Bowie.

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