The sleeve of ‘hours…’ depicted two David Bowies, both clad in white – a longer-haired figure cradling his shorter haired Earthling persona. A limited edition of the CD edition featured a lenticular cover, giving a 3D effect.
The imagery reflected the album’s lyrical themes of loss, sorrow, and Christian symbolism. It also evoked Michelangelo’s sculpture La Pietà, in which Mary cradles the body of the adult Jesus.
The photography was by Tim Bret-Day, from a shoot at Big Sky Studios in London’s Ladbroke Grove. Bret-Day shot other images with religious overtones, of an effigy of Bowie burning on a crucifix, one of which appeared in the ‘hours…’ booklet.
He’s a comic genius, really funny. He was open to suggestions and had some input – though not as much as he’d say! We came up with a few different concepts, all with a religious motif. This image is the strongest, as it symbolises the crucifixion.
We shot Bowie and then made a dummy of him and set the whole thing alight. Lee Stewart did the rest in post-production. It’s the whole thing of burning the old – that was then, but this is what I’m doing now. Deep down, he doesn’t particularly want to talk about the past or hear his old records. He’s not interested in anything prior to what he’s doing today. I think that’s the best thing about him.
Mojo, Winter 2000
Graphic designer Rex Ray designed the ‘hours…’ sleeve, which featured a new DB logo and barcode-style artwork.
In 1999 I began working on designs for Bowie’s upcoming album, ‘hours…’. I’d received a cassette of three rough unmixed songs and a small sketch by Bowie as a guide for the album’s visual direction. Bowie also suggested that I have ten different people write out the lyrics to the ten songs. Tim Bret-Day provided the photography and the process of sending samples and ideas back and forth while working out the cover proceeded very smoothly. Just as we were finishing the package design, it was decided that a limited-edition lenticular (a 3-D holographic process) cover would be done for the first printing, so I provided layered Photoshop files for the company in London that would produce the image.
I’d worked with many “divas” over the years and was braced for a difficult process. Part of being a designer is navigating the collaborative process through each individual’s personality while maintaining some measure of self in the process. Sometimes those personalities can be a handful. Some projects go quite smoothly some projects are a constant negotiation, if not a downright battle. The ‘hours…’ project, however, went very smoothly. Working with Bowie’s people and the art departments at Virgin Records, we put out the designs for the album package and the singles, as well as all of the promotional P.O.P. (point of purchase) materials.
Ray later expressed regret over his handling of the artwork, which he claimed was due to a misunderstanding of the album’s overarching tone and content.
I’m my own worst critic. Ten years on and I still think the ‘hours…’ package is a bit overwrought. The first and only songs I heard while working on the project were rockers, upbeat and the previous album, Earthling, was very upbeat, so that was the visual direction I took. The finished music on the album was more subdued and I would have used a lighter hand had I known the introspective and reflective nature of the whole album. This isn’t to say I’m not proud of the finished piece. I think it holds up quite well.
Rex Ray subsequently worked on posters and other promotional material for the Hours Tour, as well as adapting the album artwork for an early incarnation of BowieNet. His artwork appeared on the live bonus CD that came with initial copies of Bowie At The Beeb, on the compilation Best Of Bowie, and 2003’s Reality.
In 2000, I designed a bonus cd that was included in the collected BBC sessions release (Bowie At The Beeb), and the first ‘collage’ BowieNet poster was resurrected in 2002 for use on the Best Of Bowie greatest hits CD and DVD packages.