Most helpful positive review
168 of 171 people found the following review helpful
I'd give it 6 stars if I could
on 13 November 2006
No note, no word, no sound and no song is out of place on this, the greatest album of the 1980s. It is a work of epic mastery, startling originality and monumental solo achievement. No-one should compare Kate Bush to any other female singer/songwriter and this is why.
In the days when albums had sides, the first five songs would have been side one. Four out of five of them were hit singles and the whole side oozes celebration.
"Running up that Hill" is a haunting, atmospheric song about swapping places with someone to share their pain. Its rhythm is urgent and driven by almost warlike drums.
"Hounds of Love" is a wonderfully celebratory song about how helpless love makes you. It too has an urgent rhythm which underpins the song's theme.
"The Big Sky" is Kate at her trippiest best, looking up at the sky and giggling at clouds that look like Ireland, a fact subtly complemented by the folk-like refrain chanted in the background. The video is great too.
"Mother Stands for Comfort". One of the oddest songs she had written by that stage, but odd in a good way. Its relaxed rhythm mirrors the almost nursery rhyme-like quality of its lyrics: being warmly comforted by a mother even when you've done something wrong. There is no "tune" in the traditional sense but that does not stop the song being melodic. She uses drums, piano, bass and even breaking glass to great effect.
"Cloudbusting". This song has often been described as "majestic" and rightly so. It is a sweeping paean to a lost parent and is based on the story of a boy whose father was taken away because he had invented a machine which made it rain. Its chugging rhythm, beautifully arranged strings and even the use of a steam engine perfectly capture the almost menacing feel of clouds gathering portentously and scudding across the sky. The video - starring the intense Donald Sutherland - did what music videos should do: it told the story of the song, thus adding an extra visual dimension and helping us to enjoy this great piece of songwriting even more.
Where the album passes from the sublime to the otherwordly is in the cycle of seven songs "The Ninth Wave", the title of which is taken from Tennyson's poem "The Coming of Arthur" at a point in the poem where the sea gives birth to Uther's heir at Merlin's feet.
"And Dream of Sheep" is the first song and follows the descent into unconsciousness of its drowning subject fighting to stay awake as the freezing sea slowly drags her into its opiate blackness. A soporific mood is deftly created by sparse use of the piano and Kate's vocals interspersed with gentle sounds of the sea.
Things become more sinister in the second song, "Under Ice", which presents an interestingly schizophrenic picture of the woman skating on top of the ice while simultaneously realising she is trapped beneath it. This realisation becomes more urgent as the song progresses and culminates in a keening wail of despair.
The next song, "Waking the Witch" is the most frightening of all seven. It begins in a dreamlike state as its hallucinating subject hears a kaleidoscope of voices bringing her awake, some nice and others menacing, foreshadowing what is about to happen to her. The last voice is sweet and gentle, lulling its listener into a false sense of security before the song explodes into a nightmarish, babbling soundscape of blind terror as she is drowned, her panic overlaid by apocalyptic church bells and the witchfinder's evil, rapacious growl (are you scared yet? You should be). Frantic begging on the part of the witch does not save her as she is repeatedly plunged into the water against a refrain of dark chants and snatches of Latin.
"Watching You Without Me" sees her return to her lover in the form of a ghost and is a very touching song, whose trippy mood and light musicality sit just right with its subject matter. Its gentleness is cleverly interrupted by the panicked babbling of the witch from the previous song to remind us of how she died. Apparently, she sings something backwards but in twenty years I've never managed to work out what it is.
"Jig of Life" is a nod to her Irish roots and celebrates the wisdom of an old gypsy lady, perhaps a reincarnation of the drowning girl or the witch from the past or the future. It is a stomping folk song with a fantastic set of string and drum arrangements.
"Hello Earth" sees her as an astronaut sleepily looking down on a stormy, wet planet Earth and lulls us deliberately to sleep with its Nosferatu-like chants and dragging cello before we awaken joyfully for the last song.
"Morning Fog" sees her reborn into the arms of her family and is a very upbeat celebratory love song which never once becomes mawkish. A very satisfying and uplifting conclusion to an awesome piece of work.
Sheep, little lights, seagulls, snowscapes, babbling witches, ghosts, wise old women, astronauts, storms and newborn babies - it's all there.