21 Days


"21 Days" is the fourth track on Hourglass.


When are you going to tell us it's over?
How long will you keep us hanging on your hook?
You have us all by the short and curlys
Reading us all like a book
Building a tower of fear by the river
Building it up, build it up
Building a tower of fear by the river
Building it up, build it up
It's been 21 days and the tower keeps rising
21 days, that's all it took
The sun is disappearing on the horizon
You really should take a look
Building a tower of fear by the river
Building it up, build it up
Building a tower of fear by the river
Building it up, build it up

Dave's Take

"'21 Days' was like, Andrew played these sort of discordant chords on a guitar and almost out of tune and it inspired this; to me, it had a very Stooges feel about it. At the time visually, there was this- outside of the window- my studio is in a very busy part of New York and across the road, we used to have a view of the river and there was a building being built and it seemed to go up so fast...it's another one of those 'time' things that came up on the album. And very quickly, the view that we had of the river was being taken away and it kind of really bothered me...you know, that I had no control over changing that, and the speed that what was visually outside of my window changed, so it...inspired the song and certainly the lyrics and I started thinking a lot about...just when you feel you're in a real comfortable place and everything is going, something comes and shakes it all up. So, that song kind of came from there."1

My Take

This song grabs your attention almost right away with its hard-rock guitar hook, and the tune gets pretty anthemic, especially with all of the "aw yeahs" and "ooh-oohs." Singing the line, "Building a tower of fear by the river, building it up, build it up," is just plain fun, while playing air guitar or drums or whatever. The lyrics are chockful of idiomatic expressions and symbolism that it is quite difficult to decipher what they mean at first, so this one is interesting to pick apart. Whoever the "you" is that Dave is addressing is quite powerful and controlling- the expression "hanging on a hook" sounds to me like that of meat hanging on a hook in a butcher's shop, which sounds quite graphic and extreme, but it would make sense as it's also followed by the "short and curlys" expression which also speaks of being utterly and totally at the mercy of someone else's control due to being in a rather painful grip by them. And then being "read like a book" implies that the person being "read" has all of their true thoughts and feelings exposed to this person/entity in control. What a vulnerable and scary position to be in...so then, more intriguingly, what is this "tower of fear by the river" and what is the significance of 21 days? I admit I really don't know, as it sounds really specific, but through some quick searching around the internet, what I found most interesting in my wild goose chase is that there is a widely held belief that it takes 21 days to break a habit. I hadn't heard of this before, but there's a whole website dedicated to the concept, too.2 I'm doubtful that this has anything to do with the song, though!

P.S.: After reading Dave's take on this song, it made me do a facepalm and I just have to say...oh, Dave! You've made me feel so silly now thinking that there was some really deep and dark- perhaps political, metaphor here! Oh, well, joke's on me, I guess. I think I get what he's saying about having something you've become so accustomed to undergo a drastic change so quickly, even if it's something as simple as the view outside your window. Think about how quickly practically everything- great and small, changed in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic? Hmmm, so continuously relevant, this song is.

Music Video

There is no music video for this song.


  1. "Dave Gahan Hourglass Interview + Radio IDs", EMI Music, Greece (September 13, 2007)
  2. "21 Days: Purposeful Habit Design", http://21days.com (Retrieved January 26, 2021)