Fish People / EMI (label)
21 November 2011 (released)
19 November 2011
I was told to listen to this album a few times before making up my mind about it and I have to say that although I fell in love with it almost from the first moments of ‘Snowflake’, repeated listening has suggested that this is going to be my vote for album of the year.
Kate’s last album ‘Aerial’ was a masterpiece and essentially gave us the why and wherefore of her retreat into mumsy country wife-hood but ’50 Words For Snow’ is something else – but still could not have been by anyone else.
The music here is entirely something that only Kate could produce. Apparently simple but with huge depths and subjects that in the hands of anyone else would simply be weird or mawkish. She seems to be singing about the beauty and the harshness of the winter but in many ways this is just like sitting around the campfire as a yoiungster and telling ghost stories
‘Snowflake’ has a sense of wonder at merely existing and the adventure of falling from the cloud, She uses her son, Albert McIntosh (Bertie from ‘Aerial’), to narrate the snowflake’s passage and adds the chorus herself so that you get the relationship between mother and son mirrored in that between the snowflake and the ground. Steve Gadd’s drums spare and used only for effect with Del Palmer on bass – the musical note is all about Kate’s piano. The stark simplicity of the music is a perfect foil for the richness of her voice and the boy’s earnestness.
The album continues with ‘Lake Tahoe’ – a ghost song about a woman who drowned searching for her dog Snowflake. Featured vocals from Stefan Roberts and Michael Wood imbue the song with a sense of ‘otherness’ and the song brings out the desperate sadness of a dog that has lost his mistress.
‘Misty’ will get the tongues wagging amongst the tabloid types “Kate’s gone and lost it – an affair with a snowman!” – you can almost hear them but the song works brilliantly, both as a story and as a metaphor.
“Roll his body, Give him eyes. Make him smile for me, Give him life” A deceptively simple piano accompaniment with bass from Danny Thompson and Steve Gadd plus guitar by husband Dan.
The sense of loss as she awakes in the morning to find her snowman lover melted “Sunday morning. I can't find him.The sheets are soaking, And on my pillow Dead leaves, bits of twisted branches and frozen garden, crushed and stolen grasses“ sounds quite mad except that in this context it is completely believable!
The album continues its wintry themes – the single ‘Wold Man’ about the Yeti and featuring Andy Fairweather-Lowe or the lost love story of ‘Snowed In At Wheeler Street’ with one of Elton John’s bets performances in a while and then ’50 Words For Snow’ with Stephen Fry reciting all the different names for snow (maybe some imagined) with Kate goading and cheering him on.
Kate Bush has never been an easy listen: even back to ‘Wuthering Heights’ or ‘Running Up That Hill’ there has been depth and complexity in her music. There has also been an element of sensuality, of enjoyment of the close and warm and of the intensely observed. This album is completely in touch with all of those things and when, in the finale ‘Among Angels’ that gorgeous voice sings that “I can see angels around you. They shimmer like mirrors in Summer” it goes right to the heart.
Album of the year? By a country mile. Absolutely essential.