Dusted Reviews

Kate Bush - 50 Words for Snow

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Kate Bush

Album: 50 Words for Snow

Label: Anti-

Review date: Nov. 21, 2011

Kate Bush - "Wild Man" (50 Words for Snow)

In the credits to her newest record Kate Bush gives intergalactic thanks to Marc Okrand, the linguist who developed the Klingon language used in several Star Trek movies. Aside from outing herself as an ultra-nerd, Bush says a bit about what matters for her. It’s quite a feat to make up a new language; the very existence of Klingon — a language born not out of necessity but the need to make something unreal seem more “realistic” — is deeply weird, yet you can hear it in the most mainstream of venues, like multiplexes and network TV.

Kate Bush records are a bit like Star Trek, at once fanciful and deeply square, and that goes double for 50 Words for Snow. Heard in 30 second samples, you might think it’s an old-fashioned, mainstream pop record in the vein Elton John’s Madman Across The Water (EJ, by the way, is Bush’s latest duet partner) or Peter Gabriel’s So. But such an impression is as off as the proverbial blind dude describing an elephant — what could be less pop-oriented than a concept record with seven songs and a total playing time of 65 minutes? Maybe no one has told Kate that we’re in a new age of the single, and that albums are dead. More likely, she just doesn’t care. When it comes to presenting music exactly the way she wants, Bush is as uncompromising as Eddie Prévost or Masami Akita. Unable to stage it in a way that suits her, she hasn’t toured in over 30 years. And while she isn’t totally ignorant of contemporary trends, her music is fundamentally pre-punk. Fusion jazz sessioneers like Steve Gadd and John Giblin play her rhythms, and the orchestration on 50 Words wouldn’t sound out of place in a 60-year-old film.

A notorious perfectionist, Bush once went 12 years between albums, which makes this year’s double dose particularly noteworthy. The first one, The Director’s Cut, is a collection of partially re-recorded songs from The Sensual World and The Red Shoes, both LPs that are old enough to vote. Perhaps inspired by the freak weather that chilled England a year ago, she rolled straight from re-cutting to recording new material unified by the theme of snow.

For Bush, snow is not simply stuff that falls from the sky when it gets cold. The opening song, “Snowflake,” is sung from the chilled droplet’s point of view, floating to earth. But this particular flake is determined to find a particular person, who is in turn looking through a storm for that one flake. Anyone the least bit familiar with Bush’s work knows that she is unabashedly romantic, and that hasn’t changed here. As the record progresses, she shifts from the snowflake to creatures of snow: There’s a long-dead dog named Snowflake, whose mistress is a ghost in Victorian attire who lives in Lake Tahoe; a snowman-lover named Misty, whose tale affords Bush a chance to describe sex with beings made from frozen water and twigs (guess what? it’s cold and wet); and a yeti, whom she urges to get as far from people as possible. The latter, “Wild Man,” is just as corny as “Candle In The Wind” and absolutely personal. Who else would write a seven minute-long song about the abominable snowman, and make that the shortest song on a record intended to sell in large numbers? I wish I liked it better, but Andy Fairweather-Low’s overwrought guest vocal turns the tune into something one bad guitar solo removed from a power ballad.

But it wouldn’t be a Kate Bush album without some moments where “why did she do that” turns into “I wish she didn’t do that.” This time out, the hackle-raising moments have to do with the guest singers. Elton John is excruciatingly hammy on “Snowed In At Wheeler Street,” which tells the tale of two repeatedly reincarnated souls who keep meeting each other at disastrous points in history only to be quickly separated. (Come back, Peter Gabriel, all is forgiven.) But otherwise the music has a bare-trees feel that dovetails with the wintry theme. There’s plenty of orchestration, but it’s all framing and backdrop for Bush’s piano and voice.

Oh, you might be wondering why the good professor of Klingon got that shout-out. The penultimate track features actor Stephen Fry reciting 50 words for snow while Bush keeps count. Tucked somewhere between “melt-o-blast” and “blown from polar fur” is “peDtaH ‘ej chIS qo’.” I don’t know for sure if that’s Klingon for “snow,” but it sure sounds like something Lieutenant Worf would say. Like I said, it’s ultra-nerdy, but I’m sure Bush wouldn’t want to have it any other way.

By Bill Meyer

Read More

View all articles by Bill Meyer

Find out more about Anti-

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.