Review Summary: Disappointing single aside, it's another frighteningly good album from one of England's all-time greats.
Oh, what a shame that "Wild Man" is here, with its synth sound that would have sounded dated on Hounds of Love
, its awkward, stunted melody, and its not-quite-right, oddly Jeff Wayne-esque vocal harmonies. It's the weakest song Bush has released since her comeback and it sees the album's mood hit a brick wall, when it had been sustained perfectly up until that point.
Otherwise, 50 Words for Snow
is hypnotic and utterly, utterly lovely. Kate's never attempted an album like this before - it's very freeform, heavily reliant on piano ballads, and its general feel and ambience is much more important than Kate's voice or her melodies. There's something of Talk Talk's later albums about "Lake Tahoe" and "Misty", certainly on the first couple of listens; she hasn't exactly gone post-rock, but this album shares with Spirit of Eden
and Laughing Stock
a subtle maverick spirit and a deep appreciation of simple, pastoral beauty. It's her most plain, stark material yet, and all the better for it - there's a clarity of expression and feeling here that really suits her.
And in case you were wondering, yes, all of the above does indeed also apply to the much-publicized title track, with national treasure Stephen Fry on guest vocals. Of course it's a success; if she could make Rolf Harris work as a guest on Aerial
, what would make you think she can't so the same for somebody with a voice that has (no offence to Rolf) much more class and gravitas? Sure, the concept is daft - Fry reels off 50 invented alternative names for snow while Kate offers gentle encouragement from the sidelines - but the end effect is as hypnotic as anything in her catalogue. Better still, it sits in the middle of a trifecta of songs that all stand as career highlights for her - "Snowed in at Wheeler Street", with Elton John in tow, is a power ballad reimagined for a dystopian landscape, all gently insistent synths, ever so slightly creepy atmosphere, and constantly escalating tension, while "Among Angels" is this album's "This Woman's Work" or "A Coral Room"; a cavernous, pleading, unrestrainedly beautiful ballad with nothing but Kate, her piano, and a chamber string orchestra.
Very nearly a complete success, then. Once again, Kate's found a new sound world to operate in and made an effortlessly great album that works both as a conceptually cohesive whole and as a set of standlone songs as warm and comforting as a roaring fire. It's both comforting to know that an artist like Kate Bush can stay at the top of her game for so long despite all the changes that both popular music and the world at large have seen during that time, and inspiring to find out that music this fresh, vivid, and beautiful can come from somebody that's the same age as my parents.