Review Summary: after an illustrious 35-year career, Kate Bush is still able to amaze.
Kate Bush is inarguably one of the most influential songstresses of all time (and my personal favorite). Tori Amos, Bjork, Florence Welch, PJ Harvey, and so many others have all taken largely from Bush’s individualistic mix of pop/progressive art-rock and applied it to their sound. Somehow, Bush has managed to avoid all of the worst tendencies of her contemporaries and is continually moving forward: pushing the envelope with each release as she brings new elements to the table. Given Bush’s widespread eclecticism, it strains the limits of belief to think that she’s still
able after all of these years to churn out material worthy of note, let alone albums that challenge her heyday masterpieces. But lo and behold: 50 Words For Snow
is just as focused, creative, and emotionally conscious as her best albums.
Unlike many of her contemporaries, Bush just refuses to fall victim to age. At 54 years old her vocals sound a bit burly, taking on a much deeper tone than that of her older wails, but they only helps to service 50 Words For Snow
in a positive way. Her voice is very sentimental and comforting here, almost as if she’s singing to us from inside a log cabin in the middle of a dead, cold night -- clad in warm garments with a woolen cover draped over her by the fire as she recalls tales of love and loss. This snow globe world of hers is easy to get immersed in: it’s spacious yet welcoming, cold yet fondly tender. Forsaking grandiosity in favor of snow-inflected landscapes, 50 Words For Snow
is essentially Bush’s provocation for wintry surrealism. The songs have a slow, meditative tempo and revolve (mostly) around crisp piano, Bush’s warm vocals, and delicate percussion. More than anything though, 50 Words For Snow
works well as something minimal; unlike other releases, Bush really fixates on the inclusion of negative space to make way for drafty ambiance. These songs aren’t aimless in their approach though: they sometimes burst into small sections of unadulterated bliss - just enough to satisfy a craving for emotional fulfillment. This dichotomy of restraint and release is an immaculate blend; “Snowflake” exemplifies this by occasionally breaking away from its revolving motif to give way to something much more arresting. The piano seldom reaches for higher octaves to achieve something utterly sublime, but that’s a good thing, because these moments - few and far between as they are - are made all the more enjoyable as a result of being spaced out.
Bush hasn’t lost sight of her quirky characteristics though. Quite the contrary; “Wild Man” hearkens back to that definitive ‘Bush’ style as she leads a cast of characters to traverse the Himalayas. Eventually they uncover evidence of the elusive ‘Yeti’ and opt to cover its footprints in attempt to keep it a secret. Its curious and engaging lyricism is propelled by an idiosyncratic tribal-esque vocal performance by Andrew Fairweather Low. It’s a deeply rewarding moment for fans pining for more of the odd and unconventional from her, even if it does slightly step outside of the album’s overlying atmosphere. Elton John is featured as well, lending his voice to help portray Bush’s desired narrative. This works exceptionally well on “Snowed In at Wheeler Street” where both Bush and John’s vocals are incorporated with gorgeous, minimal strings and jazz-tinged piano. It’s an eerie love story that operates under the notion of reincarnation and revolves around a lover’s reunion. Both characters meet during several lifetimes and events: unified at ancient Rome, the war-ridden Europe of 1942, and the ruins of ground zero. “I don’t want to lose you again” cries Bush and John, reaching the epitome of longing and pain felt through their duet. Even more creative is “Misty”. “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 from slumbering lawn", mourns Bush. If you haven’t guessed already, she’s referring to a sexual encounter with a snowman. It’s an odd slice of eroticism, but it’s also easily digestible, clocking in at just over thirteen minutes long. Most of the songs here are lengthy - the shortest being seven minutes long - yet nothing feels overwrought.
There are cracks beneath the ice here and there, but nothing that detracts greatly from the overall product. "Wild Man" is gorgeous but slightly removes the listener from immersion, and the song lengths might be off-putting to some, but such things are faint criticisms for an otherwise phenomenal record. 50 Words For Snow
was more or less created by using very little but somehow manages to have a coherent and fully realized sound, one that’s distinctly Bush but also something refreshingly new. The songs are mostly slow-burners that only peak out for brief moments, and that’s fine - it helps contextualize Bush’s vision (even if it is a little bit of a tease). Ultimately, 50 Words For Snow
is a brilliant and warm ode to the season upon us, and is every bit as engaging and rewarding as her classic albums. So gather ‘round the fire’s warm embrace and rejoice: Bush is still at the top of her game.
"Come with me, I'll find some rope
I'll tie us together.
I've been waiting for you so long…
I don't want to lose you again…