…I would use them all here! Or even just one word adequate to convey the intense surge of anticipation I experience whenever there is a new Kate Bush album in the offing would do. This morning felt like Christmas, my stomach was doing flips as I drove home to switch on my laptop, boil the kettle, plump cushions, settle the dog and get everything just so for my first listen because, after several long months of anticipation, “50 Words For Snow” was available for download. And it might be monday morning with a long list of pressing things to do but nothing was going to interrupt this and, oh, I needed my headphones because I didn’t want to miss a single nuance of this latest offering. Less than an hour later (as I listened to it once more and then all over again), I was already wanting to talk about the experience and so here I am.
Why all this fuss, you may ask. And what is it about Kate Bush that has this effect on me. My first horrified thought at the prospect of writing this post was that, not only was was I going to have to do some research about Kate Bush’s life and career (I’ve never felt the need to muddy the water with biography, preferring to let her music tell the story) but, much harder, I was going to have to articulate what it is that I find so utterly appealing about her music and, whilst its been a tangible love affair for most of my life, I still struggle to vocalise exactly what that is all about. Where would I start? Gulp!
But then, I thought, “no, I don’t have to do all that” because its really not necessary to nail what it is about Kate Bush that resonates with me other than to express the overwhelming sense I get that what she produces is “art” – so maybe that’s the appeal, the sense of kinship. I mean “art” in the strictest sense of what I understand that to be, including the fact that true art needs no explanation, no cover notes, nobody needs to intellectualise it – although they will inevitably try! There is nothing mainstream about real art because, by definition, it comes from the most subjective of places; it has nothing at all to do with anticipating what people want or supplying a market demand. Also, what is very evidently an expression of something deeply personal to the artist, something which will perhaps never fully reveal itself to others exactly as they imagined it (because the receiving art is also subjective) can still evoke feelings of intense emotion and a sense of something important being perceived or received that would not otherwise have been there had the artist not created it. When something is a work of art, there is a tangible sense of something being given or contributed, of something being added to the world, of there being “more” today than there was yesterday – isn’t that what creation is all about? For me, there is such a tangible sense of the world being a better place, on the receiving of some new piece of art, than it would have been without it – and I feel this very strongly indeed when I receive any new output from Kate Bush.
This grand passion of mine is probably the longest standing one of my life as I fell head over heels in love with the music of Kate Bush at the tender age of 9 when “The Kick Inside” entered my consciousness like a storm. Both that and “Lionheart“, which followed swiftly on its heels, moved me in one fell swoop from kiddy-pop and Abba into a life-long fixation upon thought-provoking, lyrical, experimental and idiosyncratic music and what they insist on lumping together under the title “prog-rock” although there is something altogether more individualistic about Kate than anyone else out there. That’s something else that resonates for me: the sense that she goes away to be by herself to do what she does, that its a personal journey of creation that she’s on, that she doesnt chose to discuss her methods or her inspiration any more than she has to (there are notoriously few interviews and she is regarded as something of a recluse). But then, as an artist, isn’t it absolutely right that she should communicate through her chosen medium and not have to qualify her output in any way? Her music retains all the more mystique for this very fact and somehow I can’t really imagine Kate Bush performing live, announcing “Thanks Wembley, ‘Ere’s one from my last album…take it away boys”. Her art is as finished and as poised as any canvas in a frame, the imagery every bit as vivid. Listening to any one of her albums, I am conscious of a cinemascope of images running through my mind from start to finish and her great skill is to make this happen.
Bizarrely, each and every album she has ever released (and they have become increasingly thin on the ground in recent years) has been almost uncannily in tune with some element or other of where I was at in my own thoughts, interests and moods at the time of release although, again, perhaps it is another of her skills – as in the case of the very best of artists – that what she creates generates this response. For instance, the album “Lionheart” made its way into my music collection during the very same school holiday that, as a 10 year old, I was taken out on an Easter tour of castles and country houses, an outing that has hung with me, in the way that certain memories do, for these past 30 or so years as some sort of turning point in my appreciation of all things English as celebrated in the haunting lyrics of the song “Oh England, My Lionheart“. When the morbid fears of my teenage years consumed me, songs such as “Breathing” and “Army Dreamers” captured my mood as though they had sprung from the darker recesses of my own mind. Years later, my mind steeped in Irish literature as I completed my English degree, I received with a strong sense of inevitability the uilleann pipes and references to James Joyce’s Ulysses that so strongly defined the album “The Sensual World“. These are just a few examples of the chords that were struck with my own existence in ways that seemed beyond coincidence.
With twelve years between albums, the double-album “Aerial” arrived in my world exactly six years ago and couldn’t have had a more appropriate theme: I didn’t know it yet but I was on the verge of throwing over the rat-race and a miserable job to give myself over to the painting that was already taking me over heart and soul. As we drove down to Suffolk that December, “Aerial” was played over and over again in the car. As the album’s cooing wood-pigeon (already one of my happiest sounds – as if she knew this) along with references to the painter painting, to sea and sky, to my beloved Tuscany, to all the aspects of the very freedom, light and creativity that I longed for permeated my being a little more with each listening, they seemed to bring about a shift in my mood as that New Year came in so that, at the end of that week, I could almost taste the things that I longed for…Within 6 months, I had made my break for freedom, had broken all the dreadful bonds of my own life that had been holding me back and was painting full time, looking at big skies and hearing plenty of birdsong for myself. “Aerial” received some fairly tepid reviews but, for me, it will always be a golden album packed to bursting with the happiest of feelings; one which, for me, is synonymous with a time that heralded in a new life, one in which I too would “find the song of the oil and the brush”.
Hardly any wonder my expectations were so high when I learned a new album was on the way. What I heard on my first listen-though was enough of a continuation from “Aerial” for me to feel none of the anti-climax of a complete change in direction – something in that gorgeous jazz-bassiness accompanied by the warmth of the piano was so immediately familiar, a comforting reminiscence of favorites from the previous album such as the track “Sunset” on “A Sky of Honey”. Other than that, “50 Words For Snow” is (as I have come to expect from Kate Bush) very much its own piece of work. From seconds in, I was being delighted by it. A little further in and I was getting tingles. As the track “Misty”carried me to its absorbing conclusion (which – on every listen still – leaves me feeling exhilarated and with heart racing) it had me with tears of sheer joy pricking, so intense was the wave of building sound that it carried me on and yet (and isnt there a particular skill in being able to drive forward so many extremes of emotion at the same time) I was also wanting to laugh out loud at the inherent humour and sheer audacity of a song about a romantic tryst with a snowman, a theme that only Kate Bush could pull off (and she does). A phrase sprang to mind, uttered by a good friend of mine on first hearing the track “Mrs. Bartolozzi” (fondly known in our household as “Washing Machine”) when “Aerial” was first released; that Kate Bush was still as “mad as a barrel of frogs” and there is something in that – but then there is always a good dose of madness mixed in with genius.
Again, I would hasten to add that true art, as I understand it, needs to be audacious and there is no one more so than Kate Bush; you know she is following her own artistic whims, exploring whatever pokey corners, odd-ball themes and whimsical thoughts appeal to her enough to turn her hand to. The title song itself is exactly what it sounds like: a list of “50 Words For Snow” and any concern I may have had, up to the very moment of hearing it, along the lines of how interesting can you make a list, was gone in a blink, ejected at the same time as any concerns I may also have had about the use of Stephen Fry’s oft-sardonic voice on the same track. In reality this track is so innovative and, frankly, brilliant, that it is one that stands out as pure genius in what is already a sea of perfection.
In conclusion I’m left noticing that, like every great artist, Kate Bush just seems to go from strength to strength, self-surpassing with every new effort. I also feel that her voice just gets better and better, with ever more resonance – which can be measured by her recent re-hash of some of her earlier material for “The Director’s Cut“, released earlier this year, on which (amongst other gems) the new version of “Moments of Pleasure” stands out as exquisite where the original was just great and which is now one my favourite tracks of all time.
On this new album, we get all the benefit of this ever more seasoned voice (perhaps appreciated all the more by virtue of the fact her albums are so well spaced) along with new material that has far exceeded my considerable expectations. If I could give this album 50 stars, I would!