There’s a kind of new-aginess and cheesy fantasy-world theme to this album that I feel compelled to overlook in favour of focusing on the brilliant musical space I found inside Kate Bush’s new album 50 Words For Snow. Released this November, it marks her 10th studio album over her forty-odd year career.
The songs have a depth to them that pulls you in and lets you imagine yourself sitting quietly underneath her grand piano — the hammered strings buzz through you as the upright bass and the laid back jazz drumming lull you into her fantasy world; snow falls to the floor as light strings take over from the rhythm section and you’re stuck there until she decides the story is over.
For they are indeed stories, images of winter and themes of loss run strong. “Lake Tahoe” features an old dog who dreams of his owner, an old woman, now a spirit inhabiting the lake, calling for her pet, “Snowflake! Snowflake!”. It’s best to listen to the songs as an open-ended poem, abandoning traditional song structures, unfolding as the poem dictates. You get the sense these songs could unfold forever if given the time. “Lake Tahoe” for example is eleven minutes and eight seconds. The longest piece on the album, “Misty”, depicts an encounter with a snowman who climbs in through her window to melt away in bed with her. To parallel the literary songwriting, the CD package doubles as a book of poems. Each piece is arranged as a poet would to give the reader a sense of the inflection and structures it is actually sung at.
If I had one criticism it is that at certain moments you get the distinct feeling she hasn’t quite, as yet, made it out of the 80’s unscathed by cheesy synth, bad harmony singers, and a little over the top call and response vocals. Check out “Wild Man” and “Snowed In At Wheeler Street” for this and then never again stand so far away from the stereo you can’t press skip. Some downsides notwithstanding, the brilliance of the majority of the album make this a great soundtrack for a dark winter. Just make sure you have a fire going and plenty of scotch.