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.
on 3 September 2005
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.
on 9 October 2003
Picture this. An ordinary Thursday evening in the late 1970’s about to be thrown into the realms of the bizarre by- of all things- Top Of The Pops.
In what I strongly suspect was a Laura Ashley nightie a mad haired hippy chick with eyes as big as saucers does a twirly whirly dance under some trees in a cold damp park and unleashes the most unearthly noise- four minutes of Victorian melodrama splattered with Pink Floyd guitars and vocals that made the dog whine. Then, leaving me stunned, confused and just a bit scared, she’s gone, leaving me to my Clash albums.
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?
on 1 September 2005
Hounds Of Love is undoubtedly one of the great 80s albums and a highpoint in her career. It's split into 2 parts, the 5 songs which made up Side One, and the Ninth Wave song cycle which took up Side 2. The remastered version of this CD has some excellent bonus tracks, a great extended minimalist version Of Running Up That Hill; Be Kind To My Mistakes, her theme song from Nic Roeg's disappointing film Castaway, which is a fine song in itself and makes this disc even greater than it is, and a cover of a traditional folk song, My Lagan Love, in which Kate gives one of her best vocal performances. The album itself is just full of great songs, Deal With God aka Running Up That Hill is one of Kate's finest songs, an apocalyptic and menacing piece; Mother Stands For Comfort is one of her finest ballads, a companion piece to Man With The Child In His Eyes complete with drum machines and Enoesque synths, and Hounds Of Love, continuing the drum heavy beat of Running Up That Hill with a sensuality that only Kate can bring off, a track which endures today as it was covered (rather badly) by The Futureheads. Perhaps the "song cycle" is slightly less than the 5 song set of Side One but still with the stupendous "And Dream Of Sheep" it still packs a mighty punch. Less instant than the previous songs, it's still an ambitious piece and unlike anything I've heard before. It's not exactly her "Low" but is her avant garde take on rock music,a combination of prog,classical, Peter Gabriel and Laurie Anderson. What is great about this album is that it's stood the test of time. It's an album that stands alone because there's no one quite like Kate. There's only one Kate Bush and this album proves it.
Hounds of Love is, almost certainly, my favourite album. Obviously, this accolade changes quite frequently but if it were juged by frequency of time spent at the top of my list, this would definitely win. So for the majority of the time, yes,this is my favourite album.
Bush is an innovator, a true original, a flat out brilliant musician. That's all there is to it really. From the excellent opening track, the classic Running Up That Hill with its incessant beat, to the slow and gently haunting And Dream of Sheep, this album is the most cohesive and also the most constantly different and listen-to-able one that I own. The track Hounds of Love is an absolute classic, the electric, ethereal Waking the Witch is hugely underrated, and Jig of Life , with its violins and strained lyrics is brilliant. Favourite track? Cloudbusting. There are times when this easily stands at the top of my "best songs ever" list.
Hounds of Love is an album you absolutely must have. Like Aerial, it's a brilliant dual album: a series of unrelated songs followed by a series of linked ones. It's without a doubt her best work (followed quickly by The Kick Inside and the newly released Aerial, I think).It's necessary listening.