In a departure from conventional marketing practice, David Bowie chose to release ‘hours…’ online prior to its scheduled release date.
Beginning on 6 August 1999, the album was unveiled track-by-track, with 45-second song snippets posted at a time. The artwork was similarly revealed piece-by-piece.
On 21 September a notice was posted on BowieNet:
For the first time in the history of the music business, a major recording artist and a leading record company are joining with retailers to bring a complete album to music fans via download from the internet.
I am hopeful that this small step will lead to greater steps by myself and others, ultimately giving consumers greater choices and easier access to the music they enjoy.
While the decision was in keeping with Bowie’s far-reaching vision of the internet’s possibilities, it was not well-received by traditional retailers. An HMV spokesperson summed up the divide between old and new:
If artists release albums on the net before other people can buy them in the shops, it’s not a level playing field. Records should be available to everyone at the same time, and not everyone has access to the internet… It’s unlikely that we would stock the artist in question. Retailers are not going to stand for it.
‘Thursday’s Child’ was released on 20 September 1999 as the first single from ‘hours…’. It was BBC Radio 2’s record of the week, and reached number 16 in the UK, becoming Bowie’s 56th top 40 hit.
The various formats included the additional tracks ‘We All Go Through’, ‘No One Calls’, ‘Thursday’s Child’ (Rock Mix), ‘We Shall Go To Town’, and ‘1917’, as well as the full-length video for ‘Thursday’s Child’ in QuickTime format.
‘hours…’ followed two weeks later, on 21 September. It reached number five on the UK albums chart, before swiftly dropping down. In Japan it contained the bonus track ‘We All Go Through’.
The album failed to enter the top 40 in America, peaking at number 47, although it was a top 10 hit in France, Germany, and Italy.
Three singles followed. ‘The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell’ was issued on 14 October, although it had been released on 20 September in Australia and Japan.
The third single from ‘hours…’ was ‘Survive’. Released on 24 January 2000, it reached number 28 in the UK. The single’s formats included a Marius De Vries mix; the Stigmata soundtrack version of ‘The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell’; live versions of ‘Survive’, ‘Thursday’s Child’ and ‘Seven’ recorded in Paris on 13 October 1999; and the video in QuickTime.
‘Survive’ is probably my favourite, one of the two favourite new songs from the …hours album. There’s something that I really find authentically early Seventies about the writing structure of ‘Survive’, and it’s a joy to sing on stage. It’s probably one of the favourite of the new songs to actually perform.
Top Of The Pops 2, 1999