Kate Bush, 50 Words for Snow (Anti-, 2011)

Unique, always challenging, and often perplexing, Kate Bush has had a remarkable career that now spans close to thirty-five years. She has a reputation for working very slowly and deliberately -- her 2005 CD Aerial came twelve years after her previous release The Red Shoes -- but lately she has actually been quite busy. May 2011 saw the release of Director's Cut, a collection of reworked versions of songs that originally appeared on The Sensual World (1989) and The Red Shoes, but at the time of release she was already back in the studio recording the seven tracks that make up her CD of all new material, 50 Words for Snow. This album takes a different musical direction than Bush's previous work, but lacks none of her characteristic quirkiness and sense of musical adventure.

The most obvious difference between 50 Words for Snow and Bush's previous work is that the soundscape is dominated by Bush's piano, rather than her voice. In fact, the first voice you hear on the opening song "Snowflake" belongs to her son, Albert "Bertie" McIntosh. All of the songs are extended, ambient pieces, ranging from nearly seven to over thirteen minutes in length. The arrangements are generally a bit on the jazzy side, with the piano supported mostly by Steve Gadd's drums and percussion. The songs tell different stories, linked by the theme of snow. "Snowflake" is literally about a snowflake, floating down to meet its destination. "I am ice and dust, I am sky," Bertie sings while Bush responds,"The world is so loud, keep falling, I will find you." "Lake Tahoe" is a ghost story about a woman who met her end looking for her dog in the cold; at the end of the song her spirit comes home and finds the dog waiting for her. "Wild Man" is a song about the yeti, and "Snowed in at Wheeler Street" is a duet about love enduring through history that features guest vocalist Elton John.

Of course, Bush's recordings are made or broken by the willingness of the listener to embrace her many eccentricities. Her best work has moments that will make some people go "Wow!" while others go "Huh?" The two songs that define this album in that regard are "Misty" and the title track. "Misty" is a deeply erotic song about love that melts away as quickly as it arrives. Taken literally, though, it's a thirteen-minute opus about a one night stand with a snowman. "50 Words for Snow" takes its inspiration from the Inuit, who really do have fifty words in their language to describe various types of snow. Bush concocts fifty different expressions -- some mundane, some completely off the wall -- and gets Stephen Fry to recite them as she counts them off.

Kate Bush has always been an avant-garde performance artist somewhat miscast as an alternative rocker. She has shown more than enough genuine musicality over the years to keep pulling it off, though, and she remains one of the best and most influential artists of the rock era, male or female. 50 Words for Snow is ultimately a solid piece of work. Bush creates a wintry atmosphere from the opening notes, and lets each idea develop in as much time as is necessary. The slow pace will frustrate listeners insisting on instant gratification, but this album grows on you as much as any of her work in the past. I'd argue that it's her best work since Hounds of Love in 1985, already half her lifetime ago.

Overall grade: A-

reviewed by Scott

An animated piece set to a segment of "Misty"

1 comment:

Rachel said...

As always, well done Scott. Can it be that Aerial came out so long ago (not to mention The Hounds of Love)?!

Poor melting snowman.