Review Summary: Kate Bush's fith studio record is an exceptionally crafted piece of work that combines elements of pop and progressive rock seamlessly.
Throughout music history men had always been figureheads of music; think John Lennon, Elvis Presley and Dave Gilmour. However the introduction of independent record labels in the eighties changed this somewhat. Female idols such as Annie Lennox (then of Eurythmics) and Stevie Nicks stole the publicity as strong minded women while Madonna was still in her material girl phase and one of the most underappreciated lest forgotten female artists in British history was shut away, creating her electrifying magnum opus. After shooting to fame in 1978 with the unorthodox single Wuthering Heights
Kate Bush went on to release four high charting albums, broke America and succeeded in her one and only tour. Her fifth studio album The Hounds Of Love
marked a significant change from the inherent weirdness of The Dreaming
and in turn reignited Bush’s popularity within both the British and American markets.
Essentially the album is split into two very individual halves. The first half we get is essentially pop, albeit adventurous. Pop hooks are found aplenty here, shown by Bush’s choice to use four of the five songs as singles. Running Up That Hill
was on its own Bush’s second most popular single of the decade and with songs such as Cloudbusting
and the titular Hounds Of Love
backing it up it is of no surprise that these five tracks alone represent some of the best pure pop tracks that she ever wrote. Despite all of the brilliance of this first section however it is in second part ‘The Ninth Wave’ where Bush really shines. The idea of a pop album transforming into a conceptual progressive rock album seems preposterous but Bush succeeds with ‘The Ninth Wave’ which is both scary and captivating. The progressive nature of the tracks here show Bush at her most ambitious, using many samples and synthesizer effects to create the perfect atmosphere. Essentially a concept, ‘The Ninth Wave’ tells the tale of a woman stranded at sea and drowning as the waves get higher and she struggles to breathe. The contrast of this from the love songs on the first side of the LP couldn’t be more dramatic, and prevents the album from becoming stale.
Lead single Running Up That Hill
opens the album strongly. The memorable hook and catchy chorus ensure the track can appeal to anyone, as the peak of number 3 in the British charts shows. The success of this single marked a return to form in the public eye as the singles off of previous album The Dreaming
had failed to excite. Following this up with second single and album highlight Cloudbusting
was commercially successful and the two songs bookend the pop section excellently. Cloudbusting
itself offers a different perspective of love; that of a father through a child’s eyes. This is yet another distinctive feature in the album, making the song stand out above and beyond the more generic love songs such as Running Up That Hill
and The Morning Fog
. The quality drops slightly in between the two, with Big Sky
disappointing, and although it is a good track on its own, its placement on the album with superior songs surrounding it, make it stand out for the wrong reasons.
Despite this, the quality of the first five tracks is great however it is after Cloudbusting
where the album really shines. The aforementioned ‘Ninth Wave’ shows Bush in full creative flow, with many diverse techniques used in order to compliment and strengthen the emotional impact that the album thrives upon. Mellower songs such as And Dream Of Sheep
and Jig Of Life
use woodwind and string instruments to great effect whereas the more overwhelming tracks such as Under Ice
and Waking The Witch
stifle the listener with heavy production and overwhelming instrumentation. Waking the Witch
in particular overpowers with intense use of brilliant sampling and growling synthesized voices. The conceptual features of ‘The Ninth Wave’ rely heavily on atmospherics, whether it be the edgy terrified ambience of Under Ice
or the airy spacious minimalism of Hello Earth
the atmospheres are executed superbly throughout. The choice of instruments plays a large part in the effectiveness of the chosen atmospheres, with wind and string instruments used primarily on happier songs and electronics used heavily on more intimidating tracks.
The production throughout the album is top quality, extremely precise without ever being too raw or too polished. Bush, annoyed at the studio interference cost for studio space on her previous album The Dreaming
had her own built in an outhouse next to her residence. Using this, she recorded, mixed and produced the album herself, adding numerous months to the release date in the process. However the advantages of this personal, intimate approach pay off in dividends, especially on ‘The Ninth Wave’ which is mixed perfectly to portray all the required emotions effortlessly.
The Hounds Of Love
is a fantastic record; written, produced and recorded by an artist on the absolute top of her game. The first half showcases Bush’s immense pop instincts and contains all four of the albums singles, including possibly two of her most gripping pop songs in Running Up That Hill
. However as good the first half of the album is, it is surpassed by the progressive ‘The Ninth Wave’ which is as diverse as anything in the genre. The consistency of the record is so high that it is difficult to pick out any weaknesses except possibly Big Sky
but then again even this managed a top forty chart position when it was released, and the high points easily exceed the lows.
Running Up That Hill
Waking The Witch
Overall 4.5 Superb