Perhaps the biggest musical surprise of 2011 has not been the reformation of The Stone Roses or the gargantuan success of Adele, but the emergence of, not one, but two new Kate Bush albums six years after the release of her last studio full-length ’Aerial’. Fans of the elusive singer have become well accustomed to spending years waiting for albums but when they finally do arrive they are always illuminating and never short of excellent; ‘50 Words For Snow’ is no different.
While May’s ‘Directors Cut’ was a reworking of earlier material, ‘50 Words For Snow’ features seven all-new compositions. It is a concept album of sorts based around the theme of winter and snow, a theme Bush has wanted to cover for a long time, and there is definitely a pronounced wintry feeling to these subtle, delicate and at times desolate songs. For an artist who has a reputation for making theatrical, florid music ‘50 Words Of Snow’ features Bush showing her capacity for restraint and her supreme gift for making meticulously crafted beautiful music.
The album is very long, indeed at least two of the tracks are over ten minutes in length, but it never fails to captivate and is never dull. In much the same way as it is possible to stare enthralled at falling snow for hours the fragile songs here, despite their length, leave you engrossed.
Opening track ‘Snowflake’ sets the tone. A twinkling piano is the backing for a duet between Bush and her son Bertie which sees her playing the role of the mother protector shielding her son from the elements: “The world is so loud, keep falling, I’ll find you.” ‘Lake Tahoe’ sees Bush showing off her experimental side and features an operatic duet between Stefan Roberts and Michael Wood.
‘Misty’ is an incredibly sensual and heartfelt track featuring a powerfully soulful vocal. It seems to describe a passionate encounter with a snowman that has came to life before mysteriously departing, “I see his snowy white face but I’m not afraid / he lies down beside me / I can feel him melting in my hand.”
‘Wild Man’ is faster paced and is the only song here that could reasonably be considered a pop single, at least in Kate Bush’s fabulously strange definition of pop. The second half of the album takes a turn for the strange. Elton John pops up with a soulful stately vocal in ‘Snowed In At Wheeler Street’ his powerful voice a lovely contrast with Bush’s soft hushed tones. The title track is the highlight and possibly the most baffling piece of music to be heard all year. Stephen Fry is an unusual choice of guest as he intones 50 different synonyms for snow over a dense tribal backing. These terms for snow are mostly made up, and go from the beautiful (‘blackbird braille’), to the ridiculous (‘Boomerangablanca’). A lot of thought has clearly gone into these linguistic creations and a read of the lyric sheet is strongly recommended. It is an utterly bonkers piece but it encapsulates everything that is so unique and fascinating about Bush.
The great thing about Kate Bush is that you cannot imagine anyone else ever possibly making the music she does, and ‘50 Words For Snow’ is another impossibly beautiful and individually brilliant album. A perfect accompaniment to those long and dark wintry nights.
“For me, it was more than just a cover, it was emotional, and an experience I’ll always treasure.”
The release will contain her B-sides, rare tracks, covers, and 12” mixes in one collection.
The catalogue will include all of her studio albums, as well as cover versions and rarities.
Because “no one is going to understand it”.