Kate Bush - 50 Words For Snow
A new Kate Bush album is always an event. Years apart, meticulously planned and laboured over, they are always exciting, always momentous, even if at times they are perplexing. What we love about Kate is also what aggravates us, her eccentricities. We love that she doesn't take the straight-forward route through her career, though there are times we would like her to dispense with the left-field cameo appearances (Prince, Lenny Henry, Rolf Harris - three times!) and weird arrangements and just sing.
Most of us love snow, long for it, and when the first shy flakes begin to fall we run outside and laugh and play as if we were all eight years old again. Then after a bit the stuff turns brown and slushy, it's hard to get around in, your car slides around in the road, and it swiftly loses the fun factor. 50 Words For Snow is an incredibly apt title for this work.
Kate Bush plays by nobody's rules but her own. We have seen this in her earlier work (The Dreaming and her much more successful Hounds Of Love), her eccentricities both a blessing and a curse. Opening track, 'Snowflake' (the lead vocal sung by her son Bertie) is luscious like snow-covered fields lit up by the moon. It is slow, laborious, dark and haunting, the singer embodying the spirit of a snowflake slowly glistening down to earth. It is beautiful and atmospheric, hearkening back to Dianne Jackson's production on The Snowman: the same insistent deep piano chords, the same childlike candor: "I can see horses / Wading through snowdrifts / My broken hearts / My fabulous dances".
As with all off Bush's work, the songs are populated with a vast cast of characters. The album is like looking into a magnificent snow globe that you shake and suddenly the people inside spring to life. In 'Lake Tahoe' we see the ghost of a old woman who resides in a lake, calling to her pet dog 'Snowflake'. It is a sad and lonely song, yet deeply moving; the old woman going about her business, commenting on the familiar objects in her home: "Here's the kitchen / There's your basket / Here's the hall / That's where you wait for me". The very odd 'Misty' is like an adult version of Frosty, a slightly erotic tale of a snowman who comes to life and visits the protagonist in her bed, grotesque, his face covered dead leaves and twigs: "I see his snowy white face / But I'm not afraid / He lies down beside me / I can feel him melting in my hand."
The next part of the album is where the oddities don't work so well. In 'Wild Man' we go hunting for the Yeti, trying to keep him safe from those who might do him harm. The songs is frolicking and playful, yet slightly underwhelming. 'Snowed In At Wheeler Street' could have been the best track on the album: a cross between the 1948 film Portrait of Jenny and The Time Traveler's Wife, it is a song about star-crossed lovers who find and lose each other through time. The burning of Rome, war-torn Paris, 9/11. It could have been magnificent: the chilling music, Kate's glorious voice, the tragedy and pathos of it all, but for Elton John's utterly inappropriate and just plain ghastly vocal performance. The result is heartbreaking for what could have been.
The title track is literally just 50 (mostly made up) words for snow as spoken by Stephen Fry, and is dull - like sitting through a spelling bee. The words themselves are delightful, swans-a-melting, deamondi-pavlova eiderfalls, Santanyeroofdikov, stellatundra, hunter's dream, faloop'njoompoola, yet hearing them recited in a list is monotonous and tiresome. Final song 'Among Angels' recaptures somewhat the snowy magic of the earlier songs. Here we have Kate back, just her and her piano with subtle strings following discreetly behind, and a vivid reminder that if you have this wonderful voice you don't really need anything (or anyone) else.
No doubt most will gladly overlook the snowdrifts that mar what is otherwise a sometime lovely album, overjoyed that she has graced us with her magical presence once again. Frustrating, exhilarating, enchanting, confusing, maddening, embracing, heartbreaking, heartwarming. So many words for Kate Bush.