In a week where icons of both childhood and adulthood are tragically passing, I’ll be looking back to another legend who is, thankfully still with us, in the form of Kate Bush.
Before 1985, after a relatively unsuccessful album The Dreaming, Kate Bush seemed to disappear from the collective consciousness. She described that record as her ‘”She’s gone mad” album, my “she’s not commercial any more” album.’ After escaping to the country to build her own studio behind her family barn, she was ready to set to work on what is arguably her masterpiece: Hounds of Love.
The album itself seems somewhat split in two: the upbeat tracks which open it such as Cloudbusting and Hounds Of Love, and the more avant-garde, edgier tendencies of Under Ice and Waking Up The Witch.
The former tracks are perfect alt-pop: interesting, upbeat, and definitely catchy. The latter are almost the antithesis of this. They are dark, gothic and in some parts actually quite terrifying. In Under Ice, we are taken from the cinematic landscape of someone ice-skating in the “spitting snow” to the horrifying idea that there is “something moving under the ice”. What makes this even more disturbing is that - while the song is confused and chaotic with a mix of voices shouting over each other - Bush seems to be screaming, “It’s me!”
With no pause, we’re catapulted into Waking The Witch, on which desperate voices with a range of accents beg for her to wake up, before the soundscape changes to a chanting of “red red roses” intermixed with Catholic prayers and church bells. There is also a frightening, Goosebumps-esque voice shouting over Bush as her cries are broken up as if the signal is going. This song seems the perfect follow on from Under Ice, as one imagines someone struggling to return from this terrifying nightmare-world of monsters hiding, people begging you to wake up, and being trapped dying under a thick layer of ice. “Get out of the water” is shouted through a megaphone over the sound of a helicopter to tie these ideas together. This is not a song; this is an installation you find in the Tate and kind of never want to leave, while hating every second.
What is so interesting in this album is that you forget what the first part is like while listening to the second, and vice versa. Indeed, from the eerie Watching You Without Me to the energetic burst that is Jig Of Life, it’s easy to get lost. Here, Bush ingeniously employs the fiddles and drums of a classic Irish Jig to affirm life, to evoke the celebratory tradition of this type of music. This is representative of the larger fights within the record between life and death, dark and light. If you want them to, the tracks can follow the narrative of a dying or dead woman begging for life, asking God to switch places. If you want them to, these tracks can question everything that makes up life, the dynamics of family, relationship with nature, God, or the “big sky”.
Like all good concept albums, Bush seamlessly links even the most seemingly different themes: in the last tracks she mentions the clouds bursting on track number five, tying it to another call of “Get out of the water”. All in all, the record is a masterpiece in many ways, from the high quality of complex production to the sheer fact that it is as complicated and layered as a great piece of art. I also liked the fact that I could enjoy it on both levels, from the songs that were just straightforward good tunes such as Running Up That Hill (Deal With God) to appreciating the workmanship of the unsettling final tracks.