’50 Words For Snow’
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.