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Kate Bush: 50 Words for Snow – album review

Chris Butler listens to Kate Bush’s new album and finds her creative fires still burning as brightly as ever.

Kate Bush may have 50 words for Snow, but I’ve got 500 for her new album, the second in a year. Bush is clearly on something of a roll; in May she released an album of tracks from The Sensual World and The Red Shoes, all re-recorded. Now she is back with her first album of new material in 6 years, which seems to be heavily influenced by the change in season to winter.

The wintry theme is reflected in some of the lyrics, especially ‘Misty’ which is a sort of sexual retelling of the perennial Christmas favourite, The Snowman:  ‘He lies down beside me, so cold next to me I can feel him melting in my hand.  Melting, in my hand.’ The track is utterly beautiful and Bush’s voice at times sounds ragged round the edges and showing a deeper timbre; this is not the 19-year-old singing about Heathcliff, but a settled woman developing beautifully into a calmer career path.

Lead single ‘Wildman’ is inspired by the Himalayas it seems, and is scattered with references to the cold, from talk of finding the wild man’s footprints in the snow, to the glaciers and Sherpa’s. It has a big, bright chorus where Bush’s voice resembles how she used to sound but otherwise, she sticks to an intimate, deeper sound throughout. It’s a really interesting choice to promote the album, as it is amongst the quirkier tracks on the album, and amongst the most experimental.

Whilst ‘Snowed in at Wheeler Street’ would have made an excellent 4 minute song, at 8 minutes, it outstays its welcome a little. Elton John appears which is both good and bad news. He doesn’t sing so much now as bellow, and while the track builds to a powerful climax the track seems almost surplus to requirements. John’s appearance is followed by Stephen Fry naming 50 different words for snow with Bush egging him on in the background to some of the most accessible music on the album, it is a real treat. The true highlight of the album is ‘Snowflake’ which features Bush’s son, Bertie, and here Bush’s voice matches beautifully with her sons. The piano work is soft and sensual, with unobtrusive strings hovering in the background.

In an odd twist of fate, both Bush and Tori Amos have released albums this year, and both play to their strengths as composers, Amos’ being a conceptual album taking inspiration from 400 years of classical music history. Both her Night of Hunters and Bush’s 50 Words for Snow are string-heavy and offer a new interpretation of what the artists can do. To sum up, Kate Bush has returned with an album that is as uncompromising as ever, with tracks stretching to 13 minutes in length. It’s not an immediate listen but it is an album that with repeated listens, and listening is something you need to do properly here, will find its way into your affections if you have ever been intrigued by her work.



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