Kate Bush ; '50 Words For Snow' album review
pure genius- Kate Bush ; '50 Words For Snow' album review

Kate Bush
’50 Words For Snow’
(Fish Songs)
10/10
album review

Hush this is the subtle sound of snow and the shape shifting sound of genius.

In only her second album in 17 years since 2005’s collection of all new songs, Aerial or 2011’s reworks of older songs, Directors Cut, Kate Bush’s has delivered one of her finest moments. A collection of wintry sketches that is the snow specked flurry pinnacle in a career of pinnacles and a hibernal concept album full of spell binding sensuality, boreal breath taking off kilter ideas, snowdrift humour, a haunting magic and an enveloping, enchanting nature that paints subtle yet powerful images all the time whilst embracing the shivering  temporary terrain of winter, life, love and tragedy and humour with the magical evocative nature of snow itself.

Unlike Aerial which was full of the warmer side of nature this is a flickering wintry piece and a concept album that is like no other. Kate Bush has created a Jack Frost wintertide landscape with that silent and temporary magic of that frozen stillness. It’s an elusive world to get lost in with musical and lyrical adventures that suspend you in disbelief with a narrative beauty. Like snow itself there is a mystery and elusiveness around the songs and the emotions touched on in this album shape shift and slip away like the melting snow. Subtle moods and poetic snowscapes are described and flurry away as they twist reality into new snowballing shapes. 

The album is a thrilling reconstitution of a fascinating career and a further instalment on a trip that sees the extravagantly gifted songwriter not rest on her laurels and keep moving forward.

The seven songs are stripped down and intimate with many of them just Kate Bush and her piano. Oh, and that voice that is like no other as well with its gift of drama and melody that twists and turns into places you just can’t guess.

It’s one of the great voices, distinctive and powerful and yet also subtle and textured, nuanced and spookily stunningly original with many different flavours and colours with her 50 ways of singing from her trademark whoop to intense whispers to almost growling and always truly imaginative and never resting on the obvious melody.

This is a deeply mature album and yet with a childlike dreamtime to it. It’s themes are deep and nuanced digging into an emotional terrain beyond the range of most other musicians with reflections of longing, loss and love and lust.

The stripped down simplicity of the arrangements seems to give more space to the vocals and the inclement melancholic dampness is set against a backdrop of falling snow and a sense of longing and intimacy as it fills up the soul with a stark and powerful beauty.

There’s been a lot of nature in music this year from the Botanist singing about plants to Bjork and her love of David Attenborough. Kate Bush has trumped them all with her subtlety and extraordinary ability to squeeze emotion out of quite brilliant lyrical turns and off kilter concepts that show a breathtaking imagination.

The first three songs on the album are longer pieces dictated by the telling of their stories that they are spinning. The songs themselves  paint a stark scenery detailed by the snowdrift piano that somehow embodies the silence of the snow itself – those nights when, even in the city, there is an eerie quiet and a strange glow, and all sorts of feelings come to play against the white backdrop captured in the very stillness of winter.

’Snowflake’ opens the album and sets the stall as it ostensibly details the unique creation of each snowflake tumbling from the sky to soon melt away with a jazz tinged piano line that sounds like the falling snow. This could also be a song of love from Kate Bush as a mother to her son, Bertie, who also sings parts of the track in his teenage choirboy voice that is as temporary as the spectral flakes themselves.

The second track, ‘Lake Tahoe’, is a song sparked about a mythical old lady who drowned in the ice cold lake itself and is now floating preserved in the dark waters for ever but is really about unconditional love and the deep bond between a dog and the old lady. A heartbreaking song about the strength of love and the mysterious bonds that hold us together and the black well of heartbreak and loss.

The song is another plaintive emotional melodrama with the voice floating, almost ghost like, over the exquisitely played piano and the almost medieval choir at the intro with Kate Bush’s voice mixed lower to give it an even more shimmering spectral quality. It’s so fantastically wonk that it takes you on a real trip like all great music does. The song creates an atmosphere and its melancholic aura fills the room with its own icey voodoo. 

‘Misty’ is the longest song on the album, and turns sensuality into a fairy tale as it references a girl’s fling with a snowman! whilst squeezing out every nuance and play on words possible referencing him melting in her hands and on her bed leaving behind the wet sheets.

Every angle is explored in the thirteen minute long song which is again built around the stark piano with added flurries of jazzy drums playing against the rolling falling snow piano and the whispered lyrics that also manage to weave in the melancholic feelings of the loss of youth as it melts away along with the snowman of the song. Nothing is forever sadly, not even a thirteen minute long song.

The album’s lead off single, ‘Wild Man’ is a switch in mood. The song is already a firm favourite here with its subtle kookiness that reminds us of the old school pop surrealism of Kate Bush. It tells the story of the mysterious misunderstood mythical Yeti lurking in the distant snow twisting the story round from the scary beast to it being a victim of humanities relentless cruelty to creatures to create a metaphor for man’s brutality toward fellow creatures. 

Elton John pops up for a duet on ‘Snowed In At Wheeler St’, keeping up her grand tradition of unlikely duets and guests. The song is built on an hypnotic pulse and travels through history as the immortal time travelling lovers snatch a momentary erotic interlude under the cover of a blizzard before slipping away again into the forever.

 

The album’s title track is an another unlikely collaboration as Stephen Fry has his services called upon to do a voice over on this slice of off kilter neo funk groove with great shuffling drums and prominent bass. Fry’s hypnotic vocal attempts to deliver the tall order of coming up with an actual fifty words for snow. Of course the polymath is the right man for the job and his love of language and the quark, strangeness and charm of words and rich certainty of tone is fully explored here as Bush’s lower mixed voice, again cranked through the Leslie speakers counts down Fry’s list demanding, ‘let me hear your fifty words for snow’ as the quizzical Fry intones the increasingly weird phrases for the white stuff back at her.

The album ends with ‘Among Angels’, which, instead of going for obvious crescendo sees Kate Bush going back to the piano for a mood piece and delivering the starkest piece of the whole record.

Her voice hangs beautifully onto the melody and has a slight crack and croak to it that send shivers down your spine before soaring off into that vocal that she is so famous for as she exposes the doubts and fears that exist in everyone’s soul.

Mind-blowingly open and eerily emotional it’s the perfect ending to an album that has been a stunning trip and a work of pure genius and perhaps the best of her career.

Kate Bush was always going to be an artist that got better with age, not tied into the tedious teenage concept of pop she is a real artist who bears her soul and is not afraid to dig deep and take risks.

This is a deep midwinter masterwork where frosty wind makes moan that takes no easy options.

An important work that defines genius.

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.

21 COMMENTS

  1. […] Than War Posted on November 9, 2011 by Peter A blockbusting 10/10 for 50 Words for Snow from Louder than War, a pop culture music website run by John Robb whose meme is “We are always looking for the […]

  2. Great review. I loved Wild Man from the first listen… And cant wait for the full album to come.

  3. I must admit there are very few musical artists that stand out for me. One thing I’m looking for is people who do what they have in mind, regardless of their environment’s pressure. And Kate Bush certainly is one of the few artists that has stand true to herself all through her carrier. She offers us an amazing world of sounds, images, emotions and sensations that are unique in the music production of our days. She also is such a relief for me, as she’s a woman. Too little woman have been composing, producing and performing their work. And if woman have been underepresented in that respect, and for reasons I don’t get, Kate certainly puts the barrier so high that even men can scarcely compete. We need the feminin perception of the musical world, not only in interpretation, as in opera, or soul music and so on. Her approach is of course very british and has an elfic/elemental and celtic feel. So no funk here. We’re very far from the musical feat of Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin or Betty Davis. And as for white americans, she could only be paired with Joni Mitchel, Ricky Lee Jones or remotedly to Patti Smith. But I would caracterize her as the heiress of Shakespear’s world. And no british composer, male or female, has been so keen to express tradition and also explore the digital era as her. She has also had the amazing capability of staying alive in a world quite unsuitable for her. She’s definitely a leader amongst us, an example of the creative impulse that can flow through the vicissitudes of the ever changing body (change of voice, being a mother and so on). I bow down to her and I hope in time she will be recognized, while she’s alive, for all that she’s been giving us men and especially woman.

  4. Wow! This is a fantastic review of the album. Having had the opportunity to listen to it quite a bit I don’t think anything will sum up the album as good as this.

  5. Grammatical errors aside- of which there are worryingly more than plenty in this article- it is very poorly written!
    This review has an overwhelmingly obsessive ‘fan-like’ quality to it, that leads one to ultimately mistrust the shrill pitch of a writer that seems dizzy with infatuation.
    The relentless push of the word ‘genius’ made me feel like a teething toddler being force fed raw cane sugar… sickly sweet.

    However, having critiqued this ‘critique’, I am really looking forward to hearing the record and reading some decent reviews!

    The funny thing is, when I don’t feel like I’m being cornered by the heavy-breathing hype of a fan club- I actually think Kate Bush is a genius.

  6. Some interesting comments on here. The one that caught my eye was from a person called ‘O’. Maybe that’s their real name or maybe they are your average Internet troll who has liitle to say and even less backbone to actually put their name on it.

    I doubt the people who do this great site have time to read all the comments especially the anonymous ones. Interesting to note that Mr. O chooses to write a poorly written and grammatically incorrect comment critiquing the grammar in the review. Maybe being pompous means you don’t even notice your own short comings?

    Also they get all prickly about the use of the word genius then use the word themselves at the end of their silly comment! Funny how such a long awaited album can drag the trolls out of the cellar!

    For me, a great review and I really can’t wait to hear the album.

    • Please inform me of the grammatical short comings of my comment?

      The use of the word ‘genius’ at the end of my comment was deliberate- you idiot.

      • It’s unwise to throw out challenges like that, Mr O. But, if you insist, I’ll rise to it. “When I don’t feel like I’m being” is bad grammar. “Like” can be followed only by a noun or nounal phrase. Rewrite as “when I don’t feel as if I’m being”.

        But the main fault of your post is stylistic excess, and it’s a good deal worse in that area than the reviewer’s piece. You’re trying too hard to say striking things, overusing adjectives and adverbs, resorting to far-fetched metaphors that fall flat, and generally choking on redundant verbiage. Your second and third sentences are models of how not to write.

        The reviewer’s piece, while not brilliant, is better than that.

  7. I just listened to the album. Love it. I could have done without Elton John though. Hearing his voice does sort of break the flow of the songs.

  8. Kate Bush IS a genius. Her new record IS breathtaking and beautiful. This review IS… not so hot (cold?). The writer is basically spiralling down fan-boy wormholes of overstatement, almost comically.
    I appreciate that you feeeeeel the record, but it is a subtle record, man! Sometimes less is more!

  9. I think it’s a lovely review, its rare to see anyone say what they truly feel in these cynical times. It’s great to read a review that dares to be emotional and moved by music. It’s so well written that even your comment is influenced by it using several of the same key phrases like genius and breathtaking etc, except you haven’t got the imagination or the talent to write more than one sentence!
    I can’t wait to hear the album. What I have heard so far matvches what the reviewer has written. I know I am in for a treat!

  10. Great album. Elton John duet is amazing. His voice has been deep since his throat was operated on in 1986. You don’t seem to “hip” to do your research. Kate and Elton are 2 artist going strong.

  11. […] this band to Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive for me it’s got to be Bellflower as their cover of Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill turned the infamous bug-eating scene into something beautiful to […]

  12. Have been listening to this masterpiece every year on the 2nd of January for the last 8 years. Never fails to move me into tears. Haunting in the worst (and best) way. Stunning work.

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