Under Review: Kate Bush – 50 Words For Snow

As artists go, Kate Bush is artsier than most. From her start as a teenage musical bookworm through her spans of creative reclusion, Bush herself has been as unpredictable as her muse. After a multi-year break (which itself followed an even longer break), Bush returned earlier this year with something both new and old, Director’s Cut. A collection of reworked songs from two mid-career albums, The Red Shoes and The Sensual World, Director’s Cut hinted at Bush’s new experiments without revealing them outright. With 50 Words For Snow, her tenth album, Bush has created a concept record in its purest form. Each of the seven tracks is a variation on a single theme, and that theme is indeed snow. With all unnecessary embellishments clipped away, 50 Words For Snow is far from Bush’s most approachable album, but it is nonetheless rewarding in its moods and stories.

Despite its chilly subject matter, 50 Words For Snow is a warm-sounding record. Bush is accompanied, albeit very gently, by bassist Danny Thompson and drummer Steve Gadd; they help give a loose and jazzy feel to Bush’s meditative explorations. The stories told on 50 Words For Snow are charming, wistful and, true to Bush’s nature, a little strange. The album’s centerpiece is “Misty,” in which Bush is visited by an amorous snowman crafted by her own hand. Her voice is tentative, suggesting a slight fear of the apparition, though she reassures herself that she’s “not afraid.” As you could well imagine, things don’t turn out well for the frigid visitor, and Bush’s repetition of “I can feel him melting in my hand” implies a most morbid climax. Other arctic creatures are presented, such as the Abominable Snowman in “Wild Man.” Bush naturally relates to the beast, having spent several years in seclusion through the ‘90s and ‘00s. While her eager fans might not have posed as much a threat as those hunting for the Himalayan yeti, “Wild Man” nonetheless paints a picture of a kindly creature who just wants to be left alone.

Throughout the album, Bush is visited by a number of more worldly guests. On opener “Snowflake,” her son Albert’s choir-like intonations embody the titular crystal in a haunting way. Elton John appears on “Snowed in at Wheeler Street,” a tale of lovers meeting after years of separation. While it might have been more apropos for Peter Gabriel to guest on this song, John’s mid-range vocal complements Bush’s boundless voice. On the title track, Bush counts to 50 as Stephen Fry conjures various terms and ideas related to snow. This is a highly specific seasonal album, to be sure, but for its potentially limited yearly plays, 50 Words For Snow excels in capturing the indescribable essence of cozying up to a roaring fire as snow piles up outside. Bush’s skills as an artist emerge only fleetingly in recent years, but are put to tremendous work when they’re on display as they are on 50 Words For Snow.

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~ by E. on December 2, 2011.

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