The album’s themes

I wanted to capture a kind of universal angst felt by many people of my age. You could say that I am attempting to write some songs for my generation.
David Bowie
‘hours…’ press release

‘hours…’ was notable for its retrospective, often melancholy tone, which was in stark contrast to Bowie’s previous albums 1.Outside and Earthling. He was, however, eager to make clear that the new songs were not autobiographical. Instead, they are perhaps best seen as the latest in a long line of personas which stretched right back to Major Tom.

I hate albums that are really happy. When I’m really happy, I don’t want to hear happy albums, and when I’m really sad, I don’t want to hear happy albums. So for me personally, there’s not much place in my life for them. And I tend to gravitate towards the lonely and the isolated in my writing…

The impression I wished to give with this album was that there was a certain amount of autobiographical material in there. Maybe biographical is a more accurate word, because for so much of it I drew upon peers and contemporaries and people that I grew up with and other guys that I know who are of my age group who maybe have not ended up in a situation where they feel quite so buoyant as I do. I’m incredibly fortunate. I’m a very, very lucky man. I’ve got a wonderful life.

David Bowie
Strange Fascination, David Buckley

In an interview at the time of the album’s release, Bowie claimed that he was not prone to feelings of nostalgia.

I don’t have regrets. If I am cajoled into looking at the past, which I do very infrequently, I tend to look on it as not so much luggage as… wings. My past has given me such a fantastic life. A lot of it negative, a lot positive. For me it’s been an incredible learning process, arriving now at a situation where I… know far far less than I knew when I started out!

There again, nobody knows more than a young person knows. I knew so much when I was about 25. I had an answer for everything, knew all the answers…

David Bowie
Uncut, October 1999

‘Seven’ and ‘If I’m Dreaming My Life’ both inhabit a similar space, focusing on memories and family, of loss and regret.

Another prevailing theme is religion, particularly Christian imagery. The lyrics of ‘hours…’ include references to heaven and hell, gods, hymns and angels, and paraphrases from the Bible and John Donne. The album title, too, reflected the medieval prayer tome the Book of Hours.

Dreams and dreaming are recurring themes in the lyrics, from “We are the dead dream” in ‘New Angels Of Promise’, to the questioning of reality in ‘If I’m Dreaming My Life’. Indeed, the album was nearly called The Dreamers, although Gabrels’ question “As in Freddie And…” reportedly put paid to that idea.

The title ‘hours…’ was, according to Bowie, “obvious double punning” and reflected “a vague notion of being songs of a generation”. Yet this was not the youthful crowd that he once courted on songs such as ‘Rebel Rebel’ and ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide’; it was instead the older generation to which Bowie now belonged.

I guess what I’ve ended up with is an album which may suggest periods and times and instances in the life of a person of my age. So it’s almost songs of a generation.
David Bowie
TheNewMusic, 1999

In the title ‘The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell’, Bowie achieved a triple-whammy: references to 1960s group Pretty Things, the Hunky Dory song ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’, and the Stooges song ‘Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell’.

Obviously, I’m aware of those… I think these are tough times. It’s a tough period to live in. And I was thinking of that Evelyn Waugh idea of the bright young things, the pretty things… I think their day is numbered. So I thought, well, let’s close them off. They wore it well but they did wear themselves out, y’know, there’s not much room for that now. It’s a very serious little world.
David Bowie
Uncut, October 1999