'Hours...' is the twenty-first studio album by British musician David Bowie. It was released on 4 October 1999 on Virgin Records. This was Bowie's final album for the EMI sub-label. It was the first complete album by a major artist available to download over the Internet, preceding the physical release by two weeks.
A lot of the material that ended up on 'Hours...' was originally used, in alternate versions, for the video game Omikron: The Nomad Soul, which also featured two characters based on Bowie, as well as one on his wife Iman, one on 'Hours...' collaborator Reeves Gabrels, and one on bassist Gail Ann Dorsey.
To drum up interest in the impending album, a "Cyber Song" contest was held on Bowie's personal website BowieNet to compose lyrics to an early instrumental version of the song "What's Really Happening". The winning lyrics would be featured on 'Hours...' . Contest winner Alex Grant also won a trip to Philip Glass' Looking Glass Studios on 24 May 1999 to watch Bowie record the final vocal during a live Webcast. There, Grant contributed backing vocals to the song, along with a friend who accompanied him. Bowie also gave a "special creativity award" to Derek Donovan of Love Among Puppets for his entry, which Donovan posted on the Web after combining elements of the original instrumental track with his own new recording.
The album cover, designed by Rex Ray with photography by Tim Bret Day and Frank Ockenfels, depicts the short-haired Bowie persona from the intensely energetic previous album Earthling exhausted, resting in the arms of a long-haired, more youthful version of Bowie. Indeed, 'Hours...' is a much mellower album than its predecessor, and features numerous references to earlier parts of Bowie's musical career (particularly the early 1970s). For the album's initial release, a number of copies featured a lenticular version of the cover, lending a three-dimensional effect to the image.
An edition with additional tracks was released in 2004. In January 2005, Bowie's new label ISO Records reissued 'Hours...' as a double CD set with the second CD comprising remixes, alternate versions, and single B-sides.
AllMusic's senior critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote: "it may not be one of Bowie's classics, but it's the work of a masterful musician who has begun to enjoy his craft again and isn't afraid to let things develop naturally."Rolling Stone critic Greg Tate described the record as "an album that improves with each new hearing" and "further confirmation of Richard Pryor's observation that they call them old wise men because all them young wise men are dead". Similarly impressed, Alternative Press described Hours as "a masterpiece", adding that it "finds Bowie returning to basics he never should have left behind".
Ryan Schreiber of Pitchfork criticised the album, saying: "Hours opts for a spacy, but nonetheless adult-contemporary sound that comes across with all the vitality and energy of a rotting log." Schreiber further stated: "No, it's not a new low, but that doesn't mean it's not embarrassing." Writing for Select, John Mullen considered the album to be an improvement on Earthling, but likened Bowie to a "more high-brow" version of Sting and concluded: "Even on the personal exorcism of 'Seven' there's a lack of urgency that suggests that the 'confessional' is just another style Bowie's trying out for size."