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    


  1. Thanks Jennifer for this review - I too have had to have multiple listens and find something new in each one - but must admit that from the beginning I warmed to this earlier than "Aerial". I think that the points you made pro and con have been some of the most balanced that I've seen - this album has polarized more so than even Aerial or Red Shoes (it's interesting that both she and Bjork this Fall have really come out with quite different works - although with Bjork maybe it wasn't as unexpected). I think that seeing it as its own enclosed concept is the key to being able to appreciate it and that it rewards patience and repeated listens --especially lyrically (like Lake Tahoe for example). (for the record my favorite two Bush albums are Hounds and Dreaming.)

  2. Gracie:
    You're welcome :)

    I to warmed to this better than 'Aerial' and I was actually expecting something worse (really I was!)...but was pleasantly surprised to the point where I find it another winner for Kate. I've seen varying reviews too---either folks LOVED it or think it's the worst piece of mess ever. I'm in the middle about it, which I didn't want to be, but *shrugs*. It's a little too thick for me concept wise, but I appreciate that Kate hasn't lost her touch and I enjoyed her duet with Elton John, the title track, and "Snowflake" more than I thought I would.

    The Bjork thing---I'm still trying to digest 'Biophilia', LOL. It's even more left field than 'Snow' and that's a real first, but Bjork, even though I enjoy her, has always been harder for me to get into than Kate so that's probably why.

    But you're right, seeing it as it's own concept can make you understand the work better. Bjork and Kate Bush aren't easy to digest and patience is the key to understanding what type of music they've created. If you take the chance then it's worthwhile because they do have things to say.

    It's funny you mention 'The Red Shoes' because from Internet shop talk I've seen people change their minds about that album---now they love it. Funny how time changes opinions.

    Still 'Snow' doesn't compare to 'Hounds' or 'Dreaming'...those are just classics :)


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