|1. Running Up that Hill (A Deal With God)|
|2. Hounds Of Love|
|3. The Big Sky (Special Single Mix)|
|4. Mother Stands for Comfort|
|6. And Dream of Sheep|
|7. Under Ice|
|8. Waking the Witch|
|9. Watching You Without Me|
|10. Jig of Life|
|11. Hello Earth|
|12. The Morning Fog|
Kate Bush. Wuthering Hights. Bloody hell. That, for me, was her early career.
Fast forward to the mid 80’s, and then, from out of the blue (Ms Bush having dropped off my music radar as if she’d been taken back, in a glowing paisley UFO drawn by pre-Raphaelite Angels riding unicorns, to Planet Odd) came The Hounds Of Love. And she stunned, confused and scared me all over again. This didn’t sound like Husker Du or the Jesus And Mary Chain- this was songs about clouds, things hiding in trees, doing deals with God and a whole side that was that dread thing- A Concept. Run away! Had we not fought the Punk Rock Wars to rid the world of such indulgence, to ensure we could have a life free of ‘song cycles’ or (shudder) ‘Rock Operas’?
The Hounds of Love is split down the middle. All the famous stuff huddles on side one (Cloudbusting- yoyos, rain machines and big black cars, Running Up That Hill- God, desire and lust, Big Sky- tribal myths and clouds that look like Ireland, Hounds Of Love- fear, foxes, throwing shoes into lakes. All your usual subjects for pop songs.)
Side two is where you feel Kate Bush really lets go- a nine song cycle about… errr… someone drowning? The afterlife? Buggered if I know, but ( and here the ghost of my snotty punk youth turns in it’s leather jacketed grave) it’s just wonderful, despite the presence of those foul relics of the 1980’s, the fretless bass guitar and Fairlight sampling computer.
Mad, strange, pretentious, self indulgent and utterly, utterly wonderful. A work of art and one of the most remarkable records EVER.
She’s never done anything as good as this since. But there again, who else has?
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.
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