First Impressions: Snowed In With Kate Bush
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Conditioned I am on vintage Kate Bush. The 70's precocious piano maven who gave the musical Cliff Notes version about the saga of Emily Brontë's Heathcliff and Catherine with theatrics in tow. The 'Banshee Mother Goose' of the 80's. So conditioned to the vintage, to The Dreaming, The Sensual World, and The Kick Inside, that "new" 21st Century Kate Bush is like seeing a childhood friend and realizing we have nothing in common anymore. That our time making up wacky storylines to our Barbies lives and counting our Skip It battle scars are buried memories. Yes, arriving into Kate Bush's 50 Words For Snow is like reuniting with someone who I've always known, but has drastically changed in decades time. So timidly I approach Snow.
Seven songs long, (all of them pitching near ten minutes, with the longest track resting at a lengthy thirteen minutes!), the atmosphere of 50 Words For Snow is sedate, glacial, yet comfy. Snow's atmosphere compares to Meshell Ndegeocello's Weather as it too works in it's own bubble of comfort, how it's confined within it's own ideas, thoughts, and nature. Conceptually it mirrors the cycle of snow, from the still silence awaiting it's arrival to the pelting clumps of activity then to the finale of it slacking off, the job done as it blankets it's area, calm yet changed. For that, Snow does indeed hit it's mark aurally well.
It rests in the comfortable middle of where two of my favorite Bush records lay. It's 1985's Hounds Of Love in the sense of technical movements, varying shades of tempos, and romantic swells. It's also 1980's Never For Ever in the atmosphere as it clings to the cozy patchwork of a soothing baroque calmness. Most of the album is subdued with "Snowflake" and "Lake Tahoe" wistfully kicking things off. "Snowflake" is Kate back at her storytelling charm as she discusses the snow mission to silencing the loud jumble of every-day noise. The love letter to the Yeti, "Wild Man" wakes things up with it's strident banshee yell chorus, as "Misty" plays up some sophisticated jazz undertones. The title track features Stephen Fry as he recites just what the album title suggest in an literary vein. It's very Bush-y, but with Steve Gadd's drum work and Bush egging Fry to the word challenge, it's a succulent affair and not an avant-garde Scrabble game.
The big surprise though is when Sir Elton John wanders in on "Snowed In At Wheeler Street". His entrance is stunning, even striking as if he too came in through a snowstorm and immediately latched onto Bush. The two trade-off portraying two strangers who happen to find love together, and its an odd yet welcomed marriage.
For the acquired taste, Kate Bush has always been, and for those wanting to discover Bush this way may find that Snow is an overwhelming experience and find themselves out of the loop, with patience tested. It may also be a bit smug for some, I mean, it's a concept record about snow with songs that are longer than it takes to warm up a bagel in a microwave---yep, it's smuggalicious.
Yet, even when Bush gets indulgent or when 50 Words For Snow dips into being completely dull, somewhat pointless, and tedious (and it does), there is something effective and cunning about how this project is approached that each listen uncovers something that was missed from the first time out. And worthwhile it is for it's ambiance and with the winter months approaching it's right on time for snuggling into. With all of Kate Bush's influences floating around (see Feist, Florence + the Machine, et al.), coming back to the source is a warm familiar---never mind the drastic changes.
Welcome back Kate.
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Release Date: November 21, 2011