So here it is, the 10th studio album from Kate Bush and the second release this year. The last time Kate released two albums in one year was in 1978, when The Kick Inside & Lionheart were released.
The Directors Cut, a revisiting of material from earlier albums The Sensual World and The Red Shoes, was released earlier this year. The Directors Cut to me was in some ways the soundtrack to a tour that never was, an album that reworked songs in a way that Kate might have done if she had taken the tracks out of the studio environment and onto the live stage.
50 Words For Snow is an entirely different beast – 7 brand new songs clocking in at just over an hour, and unlike The Directors Cut, an album that demands repeated listening. It’s also unlike any other Kate Bush album.
Opener Snowflakes rides on a soft synth pulse and simple piano, with hushed, reverb-drenched vocals, subtle strings and guitar.
“The world is so loud, keep falling, I’ll find you.”
Previous Kate Bush albums sound as if they have been put together over many months, or even years, whereas this album sounds very organic, with spaces that in the past may have been filled with instrumentation. 50 Words For Snow uses these spaces to create a unique atmosphere, perfectly in keeping with the glacial theme.
Lake Tahoe starts off like a long-lost Blue Nile track, and features male choral vocals alongside Kate’s. There are a couple of very unique moments during Lake Tahoe, when the song stops, and after Kate exhales, starts again, which give the impression that you are there, in the room, listening to the performance as its being recorded.
“They say some days, up she comes, up she rises, as if out of nowhere.
Wearing Victorian dress.
She was calling her pet, “Snowflake! Snowflake!”
Tumbling like a cloud that has drowned in the lake.”
The song references the story of a woman who fell into the water, and in later years is seen rising from the lake. The songs focus of attention then shifts to a faithful pet dog, waiting for his owner to return, searching for her, pining for her as he gets more frail. Gorgeous minimal strings underpin the middle section of this song to great effect. Lake Tahoe is one of the saddest songs you will hear all year, and a real highlight of the album.
I won’t talk too much about the subject matter of Misty, other than to say I’ll never be able to watch Raymond Briggs The Snowman again without blushing. To some, this may be this albums Mrs. Bartolozzi moment, but Misty really captures that silent, deepest winter feel, and features some lovely double-bass and playful jazz drumming.
“He won’t speak to me.
His crooked mouth is full of dead leaves.”
The strings are sublime on the latter half of this track, which due to its length (over 13 minutes) has the space to develop fully, with off-kilter piano and guitar added to the increasingly frenetic ending, as the subject of the song looks for her now departed ice-cold lover.
Wild Man was released as the first single from the album, and is the most conventional track on 50 Words For Snow. Sitars, chorused guitar and whispered vocals take centre-space on this song, unlike the piano led arrangements of the rest of the album. It breaks up the intensity, a little light relief from the emotion of the rest of the album. At times, the percussion almost seems to echo Kate’s 1980 single December Will Be Magic Again. I’m not sure if that was the intention?
“Lying in my tent, I can hear your cry echoing round the mountainside.
You sound lonely.”
Wild Man on Youtube
Snowed in at Wheeler Street is my favourite track on the album. Kate’s voice is now deeper and with a more husky timbre at times, which suits this song, a duet with Elton John, perfectly. A recurring theme of losing people – lost in the London Fog, in the 9/11 attacks, in the city’s crowded streets, run through this powerful, deeply haunting track.
“I still have your smiling face, in a heart-shaped frame…We look so good together.”
I wonder if the title Snowed in at Wheeler Street is a nod to the Thomas Dolby track Cloudburst at Shingle Street? Both songs have a similar synth sequence underpinning the track as well.
The title track 50 Words for Snow features Kate encouraging Stephen Fry to list 50 different expressions for the word snow. Backed by what sounds like mid-period Siouxsie & The Banshees, this track is heavily percussive and extremely playful, as Kate encourages the wordsmith Fry “Come on man you’ve got 44 to go!”. It works surprisingly well.
The album ends with Among Angels – another song that gives the impression of being an intimate live performance, with just you and the song. As the strings arrive, the feel of the album seems to change, almost as if the first shoots of Spring are arriving. A lovely end to the album.
As a fan of Kate’s music from way back in 1978, it’s comforting to hear an album as ambitious, as lyrically eccentric and as rewarding as this, so far into her history. 50 Words For Snow is an intense listening experience, this is not background music, and it’s not the sort of album to be scattered amongst other tracks in your playlist.
It’s early days yet, but this could turn out to be one of Kate’s finest albums.
Snowed in at Wheeler Street
50 Words for Snow
All lyrics & images in this review © Kate Bush
Buy 50 Words for Snow on Amazon