Review Summary: Winter is coming.
After taking 12 years to create her last proper LP, one would be forgiven for assuming Kate Bush would be unlikely to release a follow up so soon. All jokes aside, a seven year turnaround is a much improved timeframe, and the ever striving perfectionist has more reason than most to take time over her work. Her last album, the beautifully ethereal Aerial
, was an exceptional comeback, and at times as light and breezy as a summer’s day. It stands to reason then, that her follow-up should be the complete antithesis of its predecessor; a cold and dark affair alluding to winter’s chilly embrace. In fact 50 Words For Snow
does a lot more than just allude to winter, it personifies it sonically, enveloping the listener in its captivating spell while each song develops the theme further, contributing to the album as a cohesive whole.
This conceptual quality is standard fare for Bush, and is presented with all the elegance and proficiency one would expect. The opening triumvirate of songs form the backdrop to which the following tracks develop. Somewhat sparse instrumentation dictates the meandering vocals, arrhythmic melodies colouring the poetic lyrics an icy white. An atmosphere, almost delicately thin, emerges from Snowflakes
, a detached, relaxing sensation that remains throughout the duration of the album. Misty
humanises this somewhat and Wild Man
animalizes it, but the impression of sorrow remains, whether isolated or not. While primarily permeated with this wintry ambiance, Bush’s characteristic diversity necessitates the occasional divergence. The evolution from sorrowful synth resonance to powerfully uplifting vocal harmonies in Snowed in at Wheeler Street
illustrates the fluctuating moods of a slowly blossoming romance and is the prime example of the ever-changing nature of the moods.
While the instrumental miasma dictates the direction of the album, the vocals are equally important. Bush’s characteristic wails may have matured with time but are still unmistakable, and if anything, the slightly huskier timbre she now possesses lends itself favourably to the subject matter at hand. Adapting her voice to fit the music is a recurring theme throughout; denser songs such as Wild Man
demand flexibility, with layered chants interspersing with hushed whispers to generate a confused commentary. Elsewhere, Among Angels
demonstrates the softer side to her voice, setting it against a gorgeous piano melody and her son Bertie provides the slightly eerie hymnal chants that punctuate Snowflakes
. Vocal harmonics are also explored through guest spots, with Elton John (Snowed in at Wheeler Street
) and Stephen Fry (50 Words for Snow
) both offering their idiosyncratic vocals to proceedings.
As typical for a Bush album, the pacing and sequencing of the record are faultless, each song blurring unobtrusively into the next. This leads to an album that offers an experience greater than the sum of its parts, with only the slightly peculiar title track disturbing the otherwise seamless progression from start to finish. 50 Words For Snow
is one of those rare albums that can offer two completely different experiences from one listen to the next, and while a deep listen will highlight the inextricable details within, it can provide just as much pleasure when listened to casually as background noise. With 50 Words For Snow
Bush’s art-pop ideals may well be fully realised and in doing so, she has created yet another remarkable album to add to her outstanding canon.
Overall 4.5 Superb