Review Summary: The only seasonal album you'll need during the coming year.
For an album that’s just over hour, with seven tracks, all averaging over seven minutes, 50 Words for Snow
gracefully wafts by as if you hadn’t even realised. The realisation of such an album in a tangible form is particularly pertinent given Kate Bush’s well-ripened voice and perceptive lyricism, all of which suit the work’s lace and lining. It ends with “Among Angels” just as serenely to which it began with “Snowflake”, with an assortment of curious wintery-themed topics along the way. Its new-age sonorities caress your ears between Kate’s own haunting piano, Danny Thomson’s lonesome bass lines and the sparse percussion from Steve Gadd. During the interims you’ll listen for the subtleties, the spacious atmosphere, the allusions to snow, reflection, and that’s only the first three tracks. The remainder of them use similar arrangements, only punctuated by the inclusion of familiar synthesisers and guitar.
But before you begin to think this is missing the whim of her pen underneath dense melodies and other devices, she reminds us that her lyrics are still curiously engaging. One example is the relatively upbeat title track, which she claims is driven by the myth that Eskimos have their own 50 words for snow. Here she shows us that she has her own collection. During the song's course, guest Stephen Fry dishes out the 50 expressions one by one, stopping momentarily for Kate’s wailing chorus citing where he’s up to: “C’mon Joe you’ve got 44 to go” she repeatedly cries, to which he then continues. Some of the terms are mildly comical (“bad for trains” / “sorbet-deluge”
), while others are unashamedly abstract (“boomerangablanca” / “spangladasha”
), the 50th word being just “snow”
itself. It all proves that Kate’s humorous endeavours are still present. Amid the stark musical contrast, you perhaps wouldn’t have realised if it weren’t for Fry’s playful warmth.
An enthusiasm for lyrical exploration is an element she’s always has thrived in; after all, she’s earlier sung about a nuclear fallout experience of an unborn child, the digits of Pi, and almost everything in between -- a more light hearted love-tale about a melting snowman (“Misty”) and the aforementioned 50 expressions for snow are really just some icing on the cake. They give air to what would otherwise be fairly sombre music, breathing life into the album’s otherworldly uncertainties.
There are equally as many more poignant topics at hand. “Snowflake” uses blanketing snow to symbolise the silencing of a loud and busy world, with one snowflake in particular driving a sense of intimacy with its seeker. “Now I’m falling / look up you will see me”
is softly claimed by her son, Albert, among a lingering piano. Kate replies gently with “The world is so loud, keep falling, I’ll find you”
. Then there is the potent duet “Snowed In At Wheeler Street”, featuring Elton John
. The song expresses a couple’s misplaced love, their reunion, and their desire the never fall apart, penning the significant years 1942 and 2001 along the way through verse. Together they dance gracefully along the lines of “I don’t want to lose you”
, marking the album’s most powerful moment.
Evidently, she’s recruited a variety of male performers to swap lines with; in each case they’ve worked perfectly. And as each section unfurls you get the sense that Kate is utterly at home with her music, unlike the wobbly rewrites from earlier this year. She sounds as comfortable with ambience as she ever has before, embracing its every possibility, and proving her quirky flair is omnipresent through welcoming lyricism; coupled together they work almost every time. Even though for some it may take a few listens to fully appreciate, 50 Words for Snow
is easily one of this year’s most attractive albums that works effectively as background music, or as a diversion from busy life.