The Classics Series:
Kate Bush- Hounds of Love
IF you are not exactly a ‘Kate Bush fan’- which is strange- few can deny the…
potency and beauty of Hounds of Love. An album that stands up to the test of time: It is a masterful statement from one of the greatest voices music has produced. Given the importance of yesterday- International Women’s Day– it got me thinking about music in general.
It is hard to think about gender equality in society without bringing music into the discussion. There is still an imbalance and inequality in the wider world. From the workplace- wages mismatch and fewer opportunities for women- there is discrimination, sexism and less respect (for women). It is troubling that, in 2016 no less, we have to witness such Stone Age mentality and ethics. Let us hope the coming years see equality come into society and real changes being made. I am sceptical whether there will be any HUGE shifts- equal pay for women; less discrimination and sexism- but we can all agree on one thing: By coming together, we can all bring about something positive and progressive. In the music world, perhaps there is less struggle and imbalance. Whilst there is that sense of ‘we’re all in the same boat’; women (some at least) are fighting to get their voices heard.
When we think about music- and the musicians that speak for a gender/generation: You cannot help but ignore the influence Kate Bush has. At the moment, B.B.C. Radio 6 are running a competition to find their ‘Greatest Female Voice World Cup’– still managing to put something very male (football) into the agenda- where they are seeking to discover the greatest ever female singer. At the moment, they are down to the quarter-finals- Nina Simone pitching off against Aretha Franklin; Bjork and Joni Mitchell doing battle- with Kate Bush squaring against Harriet Wheeler. It is very obvious Bush will progress to the semi-finals- most of us do not even know who Harriet Wheeler is- and it seems like Aretha Franklin and Kate Bush will make the finals- that will be a fascinating battle. To be honest, Kate Bush should walk it: Nearly everyone I know adores her music and ranks her among their music idols. For me, it is her entire personality that captivates me. The way she does business- and remains under the spotlight- and retains her privacy should be a guiding light for modern musicians. She does not need scandal and column inches to get her to the public forum: Her divine music remains and does all the talking.
When you look at the best Kate Bush album- I love The Kick Inside (her debut) personally- everyone will have their own opinions. The Kick Inside was a bold statement from a confident and young woman with a sound like nobody else. From Wuthering Heights to Them Heavy People (my favourite from the album; most would disagree) you get to hear that magnificent, fairy-like voice flow with agility and beauty. Lionheart, Never for Ever and The Dreaming formed Bush’s late-‘70s-early-‘80s body of work- where she showed the full extent of her talent and writing ability. While Lionheart boasted some spectacular moments- Wow and Symphony in Blue among them- Bush herself was dissatisfied with the overall results. Less substantial and nuanced than later work- losing some spark of her debut- it spurred her to bigger things: The 1980-released, Never for Ever. Gaining accolades and plaudits- the album went to number one in the U.K. and resonated with critics- with singles Babooshka, Army Dreamers and Breathing all becoming big hits. The Kate Bush theatricality and prowess solidified itself on this album: There were touches of that Wuthering Heights-esque confidence that was lacking on previous albums. Issues of nuclear wars- concerns assessed on Breathing– and motherly pride- Babooshka– was the reflection of a young woman who could mix seriousness alongside child-like- the vocals remained light, seductive and sensuous.
Following from Never for Ever’s success arrived The Dreaming (in 1982). Denser and more ambitious soundscapes came through. An aspect that baffled some critics, arguing the album lacked commercial appeal and focus. Bush herself admitted the album was quite an angry statement- Get Out of My House is Bush at her most incensed and demonic- and a real surprise for many. The Dreaming sees Bush fighting against the male-dominated world: Vocal loops and romantic ideals sit with campy flights-of-fancy on an extraordinary, if slightly uneven, album. The Dreaming had so much going for it. There was grit, raw emotion and rebellion. On the other hand, Bush retained her romanticism and poetic lyrics intact. It is an album that gained reputation and approval over time- perhaps too intense for critics at the time- and showed how restless and ambitious Bush was. The Dreaming was a remarkable record but one that was eclipsed three years later: Hounds of Love took the music world by storm in 1985.
It is weird and wonderful; it is sky-scraping and tranquil: There are contradictions and so many emotions that run through the entire album. Prior to Hounds of Love; Bush found herself exhausted and overwhelmed. Executives were concerned about the lack of sales and mixed critical reviews (following The Dreaming). Since The Kick Inside, Bush had immersed herself in the realities of modern music: Relentless touring and writing; promoting albums and barely taking time off. Follow The Dreaming, Bush felt unable to write for several months. She retreated home- spending time with her boyfriend and family- and enjoyed the lack of pressure and freedom she had. Not dormant, she built a studio in a barn behind her house- including a 48-track recorded where she could fully exploit her multi-layered approach and restless ambitions. Rough tracks came together- Bush would work on them before sending them to executives- and took her time recorded overdubs and mixing the album. It took a full year for Hounds of Love to find shape and meaning: The results and instantaneous beauty of the album are no fluke. Tired of feeling angry, unsure and unsure- previous albums found Bush still seeking a paramour and defining sound- Hounds of Love was (remains still) her most compelling, completing and personal album.
Hounds of Love was split into two ‘suites’: The first, Hounds of Love, sat with the seven-track second-half, The Ninth Wave. Whilst the album is a little top-heavy- the biggest songs are in the first half- there’s consistency and magic from start to finish. Upon its arrival, critics salivated over the album: Words such as “dramatic” and “beautifully romantic” (Sounds) and “definitely weird” (NME) were employed to assess the album’s strengths and sounds. The anger, hate and hurt of The Dreaming was translated into love, nature and spirituality. Some derided the album’s scope and textures- certain critics felt bored and listless upon investigation- which put a dent in her U.S. ambitions. If the album received mixed acclaim upon its initial release: Ensuring years have seen Hounds of Love earn its place as a modern masterpiece. The defining moment from one of music’s most unique talents: Hounds of Love inspired legions of musicians and artists.
Carefully crafted with Bush putting in her finest album-length vocal- fewer acrobatics with more concision- a huge range of sounds and ideas went into the album. High-octane Folk and orchestral Pop married with conceptual pieces and expressionist masterpieces. Gone was the overly-ambitious ideas of The Dreaming: Hounds of Love was a more measured and commercial album that still was able to baffle and divide. True enough, there were ‘quirky’ touches and an individuality that put off some. The album’s first half (Hounds of Love) was lush and lyrical; sounds and songs wash over the listener whilst its second half looked at birth, rebirth and spiritual longing. The fact Hounds of Love is so complete, involving and consistent is because of Bush herself. Gone was the record company interference, timelines and ideas. The young artist ensured every note was her own; each song was recorded to her specification: That natural ease and lack of burden leads to broad sweep and ornamented, layered songs- a daring and marvellous accomplishment.
Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God) starts with that woozy and hugely memorable introduction. It is impossible to listen to those initial notes and not feel something: They are divine, strange and captivating in the extreme. Buh’s voice is superbly controlled and direct from the very start. In 1992- when talking with the B.B.C. – Bush assessed the song thus:
“…I was trying to say that, really, a man and a woman can’t understand each other because we are a man and a woman. And if we could actually swap each other’s roles, if we could actually be in each other’s place for a while, I think we’d both be very surprised! [Laughs] And I think it would lead to a greater understanding. And really the only way I could think it could be done was either… you know, I thought a deal with the devil, you know. And I thought, ‘well, no, why not a deal with God!’ You know, because in a way it’s so much more powerful the whole idea of asking God to make a deal with you”.
A brutal and painfully honest song: It showed Bush at her most mature, open and striking. It is impossible to compare another song with Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God). It is a perfect opening track that sets out Hounds of Love’s ideas and ideals. The album’s title track begins with racing percussion and multi-layered vocals. The lyrics see Bush recall childhood times- whether a dream or reality- running in the dark and escaping (chasing) forces. Finding tormented foxes and terrified creatures: Our heroine removes her shoes and runs with abandon. The images and lyrics provoke myriad images and dreams, whilst the song’s core seems to reflect fear of love and “what’s good for me”. Whether Bush was scared of love- or pushing away those who were right for her- you get a sense of a young woman unsure of her own heart. The Big Sky completed a remarkable 1-2-3 with its hugely evocative and dramatic vocal. Bush looks at the lost pleasures of childhood: Sitting and watching the sky and clouds pass by. Perhaps caught in a whirl of adulthood pressures- recording music and responsibility- there is that yearning for something simpler. The multi-track vocals and rumbling percussions all remain: Together in an intoxicating song that draws you in and puts you right in the song. Cloudbusting completes the first side with a huge impressions and effect. The song was inspired by the relationship of psychologist Wilhelm Reich and Peter. It is told from the point-of-view of Peter and the building- and subsequent use- of a device called a ‘cloud buster’. This patented rain-making device bonded father and son until Wilhelm’s arrest. Peter- distraught at the fact he could not protect his father- realises adults are fallible and imperfect. In addition to the song’s fascinating and narrative nature; you get that cello-driven melody and that conflict of safety (and comfort) with danger.
Hounds of Love’s first half spawned successful singles and huge critical acclaim. In resulting years, many modern artists would tackle numbers like Cloudbusting, Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God) and Hounds of Love. The second half (The Ninth Wave) is a more experimental and haunting. Under Ice looks at a frozen river with our heroine alone on the ice. She is speeding and racing past trees and leaving impressions on the ice. You get Bush backing herself on vocals- showing some of that intensity found on The Dreaming– and a vivid and unforgettable track. Waking the Witch is a scary and unsettling track that still manages to bring beauty into the mix. Fragmented vocals and sees The Devil and The Ghost Jury in conversation. The oblique and mystical; the ghostly and terrifying will leave marks in the mind and remain long in the memory. The Morning Fog ends the album with some breath and redemptiveness. Bush falls through the sky and the morning: When hitting the ground she is filled with more love and clarity.
What can you really say about Hounds of Love? It is an album that remains of the ‘80s very best: In fact, it is one of the greatest-ever albums to grace the music world. Whilst Kate Bush has never produced finer moment, you have to wonder: How many other artists have matched the majesty and beauty of Hounds of Love? It is a timeless album that can suit ever mood and moment. You do not need to be a Kate Bush aficionado to understand what is being said: The lyrics and compositions transcend compression and speak to everyone. If critics were bamboozled by (the album’s) headiness and variations; that is very much their issues. I’ll admit, a few of the album’s tracks- especially towards the second half- do not stand up to too many repeated listens. That is the case with many albums: I have heard few where every single track is perfect and seamless. Hounds of Love was more than an album: It was a blueprint for future artists to be more daring and bold in music. So many modern musicians have been hugely inspired by Hounds of Love and its contents.
With a lot of upcoming solo artists seeming slight, unoriginal and shallow: I look to Kate Bush and wonder whether we will ever see her like again. True, a lot of modern artists evoke some of her essence- from Anna von Hausswolff to Tori Amos- but none has the same effect. Maybe Bush is that one-of-a-kind and unique specimen. One of the most original and distinctive voices in all music: She remains an icon that is unmatched and completely peerless. Having recorded several albums since Hounds of Love– her most recent efforts show remarkable consistency and quality- I hope Kate Bush has more albums in her. In her 50s now- and perhaps unlikely to tour again- we have not heard the last of a remarkable musician and pioneer.
Kate Bush is not just spectacular because of her music: Her attitude and personality inspire women (and men alike); her work ethic and infectious interviews- listen to them and your heart will melt- are hugely impressive. If you want to start a Kate Bush collection- why would you not?!- Hounds of Love is that logical starting place. It is her finest album and sees all her assets and strengths- the fantastical, beautiful and raw- coalesce into a sweeping statement of intent. When that B.B.C. 6 Music poll is concluded- the greatest female vocalist ever- I know who will come out victorious…
THAT is such a no-brainer for me.
Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)
Hounds of Love
The Big Sky
Mother Stands for Comfort
And Dream of Sleep
Waking the Witch
Watching You Without Me
Jig of Life
The Morning Fog
Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God); Hounds of Love; Cloudbusting; Waking the Witch; Jig of Life
Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)