1978 and a 19-year-old woman swaying in a red dress on the moors, are a lifetime ago for many, but that was Kate Bush with her intriguing, debut single and musical homage to Emily Bronte’s novel Wuthering Heights. The lead single from Kate’s first album, The Kick Inside, Wuthering Heights remains as enigmatic as the woman herself has proven to be since.
If you’re a fan, 50 Words For Snow will already be in your collection and would have been regardless of what any review might have said. While her first albums came out in quick succession, there was a five year gap between her fifth album, 1985’s highly successful Hounds of Love, and The Sensual World, released in 1990. After The Red Shoes in 1993, there was a further 12 years before 2005’s double CD Aerial, a long-awaited release.
Kate’s latest album is yet another example of her fine artistry, as prominent today as it was in 1978. 50 Words For Snow is a beautiful extension of everything she’s produced to date, with seven unconventionally long tracks, much like her unconventional breaks between releases. The shortest track is almost seven minutes and the longest more than thirteen.
The first track, Snowflake, starts and continues with a slow, melodic and rhythmic piano ostinato that supports Kate’s vocal chorus and the angelically pure, lead vocals of her son Albert, born in 1998. From here, we’re taken to Lake Tahoe, with its operatic vocal opening followed by ballad-like vocals from Kate and some discordant harmonies that would be out of place in most other compositions. Each track is a complete soundstage, with her piano accompaniment the dominant backdrop. The instrumental arrangements are subtly beautiful, crafted with elegance for her voice to flow over, a voice that’s somewhat lower, even a little rustic at times, but always stunningly matched to the melodic outline.
Then of course there’s the lyrics, pure poetry, with arguably a thesis in every track. I won’t spoil the journey you’ll take if you listen carefully and seek to work out the references. After track three the musical mellow moves up a gear. With Wild Man, there’s a perfect change of tempo, timbre and quirkiness. Elton John features on the fifth track, vocally quite different. I didn’t realise it was him until I read the CD cover. I’m not sure why this collaboration doesn’t work for me, as Elton also has extraordinary musical talents. If you were going to put two of the best English musicians together for a duet then conceptually it sounds great. Maybe it’s a case of their talents somehow canceling each other out? I’ll let you decide.
While several artists from the ‘70s and ‘80s have recently produced work worthy of note, some even comparable to their original success, with 50 Words For Snow, Kate Bush raises the bar yet again. The title track features Stephen Fry as 50 ‘words’ for snow are announced to Kate’s constant choral comment. It’s serious, quirky genius.
This is not an album to start your feet tapping, but if you’re in a contemplative mood, need some serious down time or simply enjoy listening to the detail of a finely crafted soundscape, then this will be for you. The CD’s also designed to be a feature on your CD shelf or bookcase, the complete package. If you’ve never heard Kate Bush… start here.