Kate Bush was an oddity when she burst onto the popular music scene in the late 70's, famously discovered by David Gilmour of Pink Floyd in 1978 backed by a bunch of prog rock veterans she released debut album The Kick Inside
. Along with two famous music videos (featuring both a white and red dress), the lead single Wuthering Heights
was a weird blend of progressive rock, classical and literary influences that demonstrated a raw, unusual talent beyond her years. This precocious maturity characterised The Kick Inside
, at the tender age of 19 the public didn't quite know what to make of her. There were accusations of naive, fresh clay for record label EMI, and the completion of her second album Lionheart
in a matter of months did nothing to help this matter. Wholly unsatisfied with the output and rush to capitalise on her earlier success, Bush was feeling her artistic sensibilities being pinched and the result was something of a mediocre retread.
This period was important, as she assisted in the production and developed the strong willed personality she would become known for during the fight for artistic freedom under label pressure. Released in 1980, her third album Never for Ever
saw the introduction of drum machines and possibly the most important aspect of Kate Bush's career, the Fairlight CMI synthesiser. Once again she recieved a credit in production duties, but it wasn't until 1982's The Dreaming
that Bush would completely take over this role and the result was a largely critical and commercial failure. Taking to her production tools and the Fairlight CMI like a duck to water, Bush experimented with production techniques to create a diverse array of soundscapes that were met by fans with bewilderment. The general consensus seemed to be that she had gone off the deep end into self-indulgent artistry, and Kate Bush became untrendy overnight. Studio costs for the album came a huge expense, and there was plenty of uncertainty to be had for the future. Three years passed, and she faded from the spotlight.
What nobody saw was that she had simply laid the foundations for greater things to come. After a famous magazine ran a "Where Are They Now"" segment on her, seemingly out of nowhere in August, 1985 lead single Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)
appeared, and caught many of her former critics by surprise. Here was a track that fully embraced the sound of modern New Wave, and saw Kate Bush making a majestic return to pop music producing a number of hit singles which just didn't seem to stop. The album itself was released not long after, and Hounds of Love
has firmly cemented itself as not only her most critically regarded work but is often cited as one of the greatest pop albums of all time. A commercial success, it ultimately knocked Madonna's Like A Virgin
from the top of the UK charts, but despite this largely popular appeal it didn't come at the expense at what Bush would have considered her artistic integrity. Indeed she had learnt a lot from the recording process of The Dreaming
, and had set up her own 24-track studio in the barn behind her family home so she could save on expenses and work at her own leisure.
The album is essentially split into two halves, the first which consists of five relatively conventional pop singles and the latter half an experimental movement known as The Ninth Wave. Bush programmed the majority of the tracks on her Fairlight CMI, later fleshing out the primitive drum machines (samplers had a long way to go yet) with live percussion and layers of natural sounding, acoustic instrumentation over the top. The result is rhythmic, often huge sounding synthpop made even more remarkable for the fact Bush made a very conscious decision not to include the use of cymbals on the album, also limiting the use of a bass guitar to only a few tracks. Opener Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)
demonstrates the effect of this, galloping along at a steady pace over lush synths as Bush sings about the differences between men and women and how if she could only make a deal with God to swap our places for just a while we might just have a better understanding of each other. It was one of the biggest singles from this album, and rightfully so.
Title track Hounds of Love
creates an immediate impression with big 80's percussion, and a sample from British horror film Night of The Demon
(It's in the trees. It's coming!
). A song about being afraid to fall in love, it has become somewhat infamous for the line "Take my shoes off, and throw them in the lake!
" which is full of all sorts of inspirational, girly abandon. The Big Sky
follows, which is the third song of the energetic first part of the album. It has been interpreted as reminiscing about childhood wonder, but also as an excited response to Bush's period recording The Dreaming
and her critics reaction to it (I'm looking at the big sky! You never understood me! You never really tried....
). Mother Stands for Comfort
is where Hounds of Love
takes a dive into sombre ballad territory, but even though it is heavy on the piano it is far from conventional with sharp, metallic samples punctuating it and drifting keyboards weaving around. Kate sings about a mother who will not see any fault in her child, despite murderous tendencies (Mother stands for comfort, mother will hide the murderer. Mother hides the madman, mother will stay mum.
finishes off the first half, and is based off the life of eccentric psychologist Wilhelm Reich. In particular it focuses on his relationship with son Peter, and Reich's invention in a rainmaking machine known as the Cloudbuster which was later detailed in a 1973 book, The Book of Dreams
. It is more string orientated than the other tracks, with touches of Irish folk music which make it distinctive.
The Ninth Wave
chapter was inspired by Bush imagining a man drowning at sea, and so is something of a conceptual piece. It is divided into 7 parts, which stand in contrast to the first half of the album by featuring less of a pop influence, more samples and traditional instrumentation bordering on the ambient, yet still remaining very in line with the rest of Hounds of Love
. And Dream of Sheep
returns to the incredibly sombre piano ballad, but this time with samples of seagulls and eerie voices, lush folk instrumentation adding just that little extra something. Kate seems to really push her voice on this side of the album, and the result for the most part is nothing short of incredible. The staccato strings of Under Ice
speak in cold, tragic, foreboding tongues, whilst Waking the Witch
descends into a full blown nightmare. Initially provoking the subconscious with layers of samples set to piano (You must wake up!
), it suddenly hits you with Kate's chopped and diced vocals all scrambled up. It sounds very weird, but gets weirder as a gruff, demonic voice introduces itself whilst Kate sings over synths and guitars and the result is possibly both the strangest, and weakest part of the album. In any case it is certainly the most overwhelming, Watching You Without Me
landing us back in the safety of more mellow territory, still dreamlike and bizarre but in a much more contemplative way. It ends with Bush's scrambled vocals once again, which is an effect and recurring motif I can't say I like much.
Fortunately, after we exit the first part of The Ninth Wave
the album takes a complete step to the left to the more upbeat and jovial. Bush's Irish ancestry and her interest in the traditional music revealed itself through hints earlier in Cloudbusting
, but Jig of Life
takes the Irish folk ball and runs a mile with it. In comparison to the rest of the album it sounds so vibrant and larger than life, eschewing the digital, electronic flavour of the rest of the album for that of Irish instruments such as Uilleann pipes, tiompans and bodhráns. Midway after an energetic jig everything cuts to a silent moment as Kate repeats the line "I put this moment here
". The music kicks back in, and is pure magic as an Irishman (or most likely a faux-Irish man) speaks. This and the following track make for the two best songs on the album, and I cannot understate how beautiful and profound Hello Earth
can be. In contrast to Jig of Life
which reflects on an energetic, proud spirit of living, Hello Earth
dwells in the dreamy and ethereal. With its terse strings and chorale of the traditional Georgian song Tsintskaro
, it has a very earthy, timeless quality which sounds very distant and strange in context of the otherwise poppy qualities it has. The Morning Fog
is often seen as the "wake-up" song of The Ninth Wave
, seemingly disconnected thematically from the rest of it, more based in a traditional pop structure and rather jarring for the fact. Despite this, it is a fine song and it fits in place.
Hounds of Love
is a strange album. The first half of the album saw a number of great pop singles but on the later half Kate really extended herself with hit or miss experimentation that still kept within songwriting boundaries enough to not feel out of place. As an overall package, it is a remarkable effort but it is hard to believe it enjoyed the commercial success that it did sometimes when you listen to patchier cuts like Waking the Witch
. Still, it's near pop perfection and the ambitious second half is for the most part truly excellent.