Hounds of Love is really Kate Bush's ultimate pop statement... an album that advances on the pop landscapes of classic debut, The Kick Inside, whilst continuing the experimentations with sound and atmospherics found on her seminal 1982 album, The Dreaming. As it stands today, twenty-years on from its initial release, Hounds of Love has dated wonderfully. The musical climate has shifted recently to re-embrace the synthesised, production-heavy sound that this album so brilliantly employs, meaning that, thanks to acts like Goldfrapp, Daft Punk and Air, who have used electronic and synthetic music alongside traditional instrumentation to create dense and perfectly formed pop, Hounds of Love sounds fresh and contemporary, as opposed to dated and hollow.
As most people are aware, the album is broken into two halves... the first side, Hounds of Love, features all those amazing pop songs, with standout singles like Running Up That Hill, the Big Sky, Cloudbusting and the title track (recently murdered by retro-act The Futreheads) all standing as perfect examples of forward-thinking pop. The second half of the album, titled The Ninth Wave, in reference to the Tennyson poem, The Holy Grail, strings together a loose concept album, relating the thoughts and fears of a young woman drowning in the North Sea. This re-mastered 1997 release also offers a further six bonus tracks, making the Hounds of Love now an album in three-parts...
The first half of the record is the joy it always was, with that perennial favourite, Running Up That Hill (subtitled, A Deal With God) sounding as immense as ever, with Kate's fantastic production work and bizarre use of instrumentation creating a song that just keeps building and building progressively, until that fantastic, thrilling climax, in which a variety of drum machines, key-boards and a cacophony of layered vocals all build to a crescendo, then fall away, one by one. Hounds of Love is even better, and could possibly be my favourite Kate Bush song of all time (though, there are numerous others to challenge it to that title), with a fantastic sweeping sound filled with echoing drum-machines, dog-calls, a mysterious opening sample from a film I don't recognise, some gorgeous strings and those idiosyncratic, yet simultaneously beautiful lyrics ("I found a fox, it was caught by dogs... he let me take him in my hands... his little heart, it beat so fast... and I'm ashamed of running away"). It also benefits from a great hook, in this case the "doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo... the Hounds of Love are hunting" chorus refrain, and that double crack of the snare drum, which runs pretty much rhythmically, throughout. The Big Sky is suitably epic-sounding and moves seamlessly into the bleaker-climes of the somewhat claustrophobic, Mother Stands For Comfort, which has a much more minimal sound and lyrics that seem vague and disturbing ("mother... hide the murderer!"). The first half of the album ends with the classic single Cloudbusting, here in it's six-minute entirety, which tells a little story of it's own, about an old doctor who invents a machine that can control the weather and, is thus, busted by the law... with Kate relating the tale from the perspective of the doctor's young son. The lyrics are great, managing to tell a very child-like story and still have it sound utterly emotional, whilst the arrangement of the song, which employs a great deal of strings, picks up where previous orchestral-minded pop acts like The Beatles and Pink Floyd (Roger Waters era) left off, whilst also acting as a precursor or influence on a band like The Divine Comedy (and similar indie-orchestral acts).
The sound of The Ninth Wave progresses further, taking the sound of the previous five tracks into the more claustrophobic and elusive sound of The Dreaming. The seven songs that make up this loose cycle convey a multitude of musical styles and lyrical ideas that help to further the central concept of the loss of consciousness and the approaching of death. The first song of the cycle, And Dream of Sheep, is an emotional ballad with Kate on solo piano, backed by an atmospheric wash of synthesisers, sound-effects and various delay and echo filters. It's another favourite of mine, harking back to the style of her first album in it's sense of minimal intimacy and reflective despair; whilst also developing an atmosphere that will permeate the following six songs.
The album keep progressing further into more intoxicating, experimental climes, though never do we see the substitution of melody in the sake of experimentation... the music remains interesting and enjoyable, moving from the stuttering collage of voices on the tense and quite horrifying Waking The Witch, which begins as a lulled melange of thoughts and remembrances, before bursting into life with crashing synthesisers and Kate creating an angry devil voices whilst dissonant feedback destroys any lasting memory we had of the intro, and it's beautifully fragile piano melody. There's also the Celtic influence becoming more apparent on the schizophrenic Jig of Life, with gypsy fiddles, Chieftains-influences, echoing river-dance style percussion, vocal samples, and Kate's terrific voice, all coming together to create one of the greatest, and strangest, pop moments of the 1980's.
The Ninth Waves comes to a close perfectly with the subdued and reflective Hello Earth (a ballad in the same style as the previous ...Dream of Sheep) and the somewhat hopeful, The Morning Fog, which could possibly denote that our water-logged protagonist has escaped the infernal hell of Waking the Witch to find life, or something greater. The bonus tracks are a nice touch, particularly Be Kind To My Mistakes, Under the Ivy, Burning Bridge and the a-capella rendition of My Lagan Love, but they merely act as the icing on the cake. Hound of Love remains a great album, mixing pure pop with something darker - and much more interesting - all wrapped up in a sound that is still, twenty-years on, unequivocally surreal.