Kate Bush’s latest album is her tenth studio record, and a welcome return to the weird world-creation of records past, a place where strange things live and play, amid the ever falling, multi-appellated snow of the title. The seven songs stretch to over an hour, and it never drags, being as bountifully odd and fearless as Kate Bush albums used to always be, except with out the propensity to over elaborate. Perhaps age has mellowed her, perhaps she’s now much more confident in herself, her voice and piano, to let those elements take centre stage in a way she hasn’t before.
She is using ideas she’s used before, most notably on ‘The Dreaming’ and ‘The Hounds of Love’, the choir boy and the choir, brief dissonances, a patchwork of ideas based on a theme, male voices (her son Bertie, Elton John in a dramatic flurry of wailing, Stephen Fry) as a counterpoint. It may be her best work since those heady days back in the mid ’80s, it’s certainly her most restrained. She lets the voice and the piano rule. The less she does the more enthralling it becomes, and that seems to be the point. How else could she get away with songs that are ten minutes, and more, that don’t not have choruses, and seem to not even have refrains, that occasionally meander, but never lose the plot, always managing to find the footprints in the snow to make their way back home.
There is so little going on in on the opening track, ‘Snowflake’. Just the same phrase repeated and refraining, Kate and her son Bertie spinning their yarn. Some oblique mumbling of strings in the background. It’s like a Christmas cards you get, with the family picture on the front, or someone allowing the kid to leave the answerphone message. Bertie seems like a precocious sort, but then, who wouldn’t be, being a progeny of Kate’s. Whether or not his future is in narration and Christmas carolling, we’ll see. I hope so. He may be 12 years old, but I’d be his friend. At least until the fateful moment when we’d be sitting in his poster-splattered room playing Subbuteo and I’d let slip; “dude, your mom is HOT”.
Other musicians and instruments are subtly and adroitly used, never becoming the focus. The guitar, bass and drums on ‘Misty’ and the title track are particularly tasty. It’s three songs, and half an hour into it, before the record’s first single, ‘Wild Man’, makes an appearance. Almost a mood lightener, embracing the mores of modern pop, with its repeated chorus and narrative, but still beguilingly odd, and still more akin to a Kate Bush from 25 years ago. Snowed in at Wheeler Street, Kate and Elton exchange histrionics around the clashing guitar of the choruses. Elton, shorn of his usual diffidence gives it socks. Stephen Fry, narrating calmly and precisely the actual 50 Words for Snow that Kate has actually gone to the trouble of collating and imagining, provides a soothing composure, like the reading out the football results on a Saturday afternoon.
By ‘Among Angels’, it’s piano and voice again, the swelling strings clouded like exhalations among the words in the cold. Beautiful and evocative.