If you don't know who Kate Bush is, then it's about time you do. She's one of the most creative and humble artists in the music industry. 50 Words For Snow is Kate Bush's 10th album, which was released in 2011 by Fish People Records. I got this album for christmas so this review is kinda late, considering it's got a winter atmosphere and we're in the middle of summer. I've been listening to the record on and off between the months. As soon as I heard that Kate Bush would be releasing a new studio album after The Director's Cut I knew it would have universal acclaim and would do very well. One thing that I didn't expect would be guest vocals from her son, Stephen Fry and Elton John. I didn't see that coming, but when I heard about Stephen Fry and Elton John were going to be in it, I thought that it would be an interesting and special record as I wanted to know how it would work out.
I purchased the double LP edition on Amazon for £18.99, which is the highest amount I ever spent on an album, but I do think that it was worth it at the end. If I recall correctly, I think it's the first time I've ever reviewed an album in it's vinyl format. I think usually I just review the songs or the CD packaging, so I guess this review is a little bit special. So I guess I'll start with mentioning the layout and overall design of the album. I think the layout and design is really adorable. Especially the front cover where there's a lady kissing a snowman. The booklet for the album is also just as great. I love how images seem to be layered and printed on top of the snow. It also has lyrics that are easy to read and a snow image that represents the song. The overall design is great and everything falls together.
As you can tell by the title, there's going to be a lot of mentions of snow and winter. I was expecting this so I didn't find it annoying, although I think because the word snow stands out a lot in this album it may give the listener a feeling that Kate keeps mentioning it ever five seconds and may sound annoying. But I didn't let that bother me, I thought that this was a really great album and think it's one of the best albums that 2011 had to offer.
I noticed that on this album Kate Bush's vocals sound little deeper to how they sounded in previous albums such as The Kick Inside. I'm sure many people will remember her lush high pitched vocals from her first single, "Wuthering Heights."
However the only downer I could say about this album was that I wasn't completely satisfied. Not because of the music: I thought the music was fantastic all round, but the album left me a hunger in my eyes as I felt that one playthrough of the album wasn't enough. I wanted to listen to the album again and develop a deeper understanding with the songs. I think one of the reasons for this is because there are only seven tracks on this album and on a double vinyl it felt very short. I really liked the dreamy atmosphere in the album and the ending left me want more Kate Bush music.
Personally I'd rate all of the songs five out of five. I think it's a wonderful album that suitable for all ages and welcomes a variety of people with different tastes of music. One of the highlights in this album for me is the piano. The piano is played slowly, but really beautiful and captures the innocence of the songs as well as blends with Kate Bush's lush vocals.
Snowflake is so soft and beautiful. I love how it's sort of in the eyes of a snowflake. It creates a great atmosphere to the album and it's really got a caressing vibe. It's one of the best winter songs I've ever listened to. I think Kate Bush has created a modern masterpiece here. I also think it's sweet how Kate Bush's husband, Dan McIntosh is playing the guitars whilst their son, Albert sings on this song too. Stefan Roberts does guest vocals in Lake Tahoe. Beautiful vocals that add to the lovely atmosphere of the song and doesn't spoil Kate Bush's charm. Stefan's soprano styles are a really nice eerie touch to what is a peaceful song.
Misty takes up the whole of side 2 on the first LP. The piano introduction to Misty reminds me of a theme tune I've heard before, but I can't quite remember where it was. Misty is one of most interesting songs of the album. When I'm listening to it, it makes me imagine that someone is building a snowman. It reminds me of a book I read called The Snow Child. The same book, I reviewed not so long ago. I love the way the lyrics describes everything. It's so innocent, but poetic at the same time. This is one of the longest songs of the album and it's about 13 minutes, but it tells a really nice story.
Onto LP 2. Side three has Wild Man and Snowed In At Wheeler Street whilst Side Four has the title track and the final track, Among angels. Wild Man is a lot more upbeat and jazzy compared to the rest of the album, so you could say that this track is the odd ball of the album. At the same time I think the chorus has that quirky classic Kate Bush vibe. I think Kate Bush sounds pretty seductive and awesome in the verses. Love the imagery on this song.
Snowed In At Wheeler Street is a duet between Kate Bush and Elton John. Both legends in their own right and it was interesting how their vocals worked together. The introduction is quite dark and edgy and then it's gets romantic with the hard hitting lyrics and shares some really nostalgic vibes.
The title track reminds me of a children's song. Not in a bad way, I mean it's lyrics are simple and the way it's composed it could be a nursery rhyme. It's still pretty wicked in my opinion, love the music to it. It's so upbeat and got a trippy base. Stephen Fry plays the voice of Prof. Joseph Yupik. Yupik lists his words for snow and Kate's vocals consists of her begging for the rest of the words and reminds us how many words are left. The last word could have been a bit more inventive though, but other than that brilliant.
Among Angels is similar to Snowflake in my opinion. It feels like the second part of the song. It's really lovely and heart warming for me. I really love some of the lyrics on this song, especially the part about angels where they shimmer like angels in summer and that they're a sign of someone who's loved you for a long time and you don't know about it yet. The song brings out a warm and beautiful message. I feel like sharing this song to friends who are feeling depressed because of that.
I've listened to the album in MP3 format and vinyl format and for me, I think the vinyl format sounded the better for me because I thought that it was more homely. Kate Bush herself even admitted that she still used demo tapes because she loves the homely feel of it. So overall I think this is a atmospheric album from a wonderful artist and I think the album is worth a spin.
A new Kate Bush album is a major event in the music industry. Ever since Wuthering Heights took the charts by storm in 1978, she has been ploughing her own uniquely creative furrow, and releasing albums as and when she's ready. Thus, in 33 years, she has released nine studio albums, ten if you include last year's Director's Cut which featured re-worked songs from the albums The Sensual World and The Red Shoes. In fact, its release had many fans despairing of ever having any new material of hers to listen to! However, the arrival of 50 Words at the very end of 2011 richly rewarded their patience.
I have read slightly mock-horror comments in the music press that not one of the seven tracks is shorter than seven minutes in length. The experimental nature of her work in fact earned her a 13 page feature in the December issue of Classic Rock Presents Prog magazine. Her work is 'progressive' in the true sense in that she is constantly exploring, creating and progressing in her own musical journey. There is classical, blues, jazz, even a bit of salsa and pop rock in here, although the overriding feel for me is one of melancholy and reflection.
A quick word about the sleeve and the artwork. With so many pieces of music being downloaded these days as individual tracks, it's a shame that many albums and the work put in to their presentation go to waste in a sense. If you actually buy a physical copy of this album on CD you get a jewel-case-sized hardback digibook, with artwork (similar to the cover picture supplied by Dooyoo) throughout its pages interspersed with the song lyrics and the credits. The art is subtly coloured in shades of grey, and seems to have been formed from ice or snow. All of the pieces relate to the songs that they are next to, and I feel that they very much enhance the experience and atmosphere of listening to the music if you choose to follow the words while you listen.
There are numerous collaborations on this album, in fact most of the tracks have guest artists on them. Most notable are Elton John ('Snowed in at Wheeler Street') and Stephen Fry ('50 Words For Snow'), but perhaps the most significant is the guest performer on the first track:
SNOWFLAKE - This song features a lead vocal by Albert McIntosh, with the chorus sung by Kate. Albert is in fact her son, still in his early teens, and his voice is so similar to hers that I didn't realise at first that someone else was singing! The only thing that began to give it away for me was a section that has the clarity and spine-tingling nature of a chorister's soprano, at which point I had a look at the sleeve-notes. It is a tale of a snow flake, from its birth in the cloud on its journey through the sky, as it falls towards the forest, constantly calling down to earth for someone to catch him. The reassuring answer comes in the chorus, with Mother answering Son: "Keep falling, I'll find you". It is a hauntingly beautiful song, it reminds me of the chill and the magical stillness of fresh snowfall before it's disturbed.
LAKE TAHOE - This seems to be a song about a woman who drowned while looking for her dog; the first half of the song is about her, and the second is her (now old) dog dreaming about her - a sad song really, although the dream section swings along with a lazy, jazzy vibe.
MISTY - This is a cheeky little number and one that's been amusing the critics. A song about an affair with a snowman, starting with his creation in the garden and developing into a rather more surprising encounter as the night sets in. It's sweet in a strange kind of way, and for me it's also a little reminiscent of 'The Man With The Child in His Eyes' from way back in 1978, a mysterious rendezvous with a strange and fleeting figure who can't be found when it really matters. In fact in this song, she ends up out on the window ledge trying to find him when he's melted away... A dramatic end to a smooth, jazz-tinged tale.
WILD MAN - the shortest song on the album at 7:16, this has almost a retro-80's synth pop feel to it, with a fake-tribal-sounding-chorus courtesy of Andy Fairweather-Low (of Amen Corner fame, latterly more often seen as touring guitarist with Roger Waters). The song is about a Yeti-type creature and efforts to keep it secret. This is so far the only single release, and it has been available as a 59p song from iTunes.
SNOWED IN AT WHEELER STREET - This is probably the one that I was most sceptical about, since this is the Elton John collaboration and I'm not what you'd call a fan by a long way... However I have been very pleasantly surprised by how well this works. I would never have imagined their voices complementing each other, but they do, and he even verges on edgy rock at times. The song tells the story of a couple who keep meeting through different ages - be it reincarnations or time travel, it's a heart-felt expression of the couple's desire never to be parted again.
50 WORDS FOR SNOW - The title track, and I'm afraid my least favourite of all of them. In honour of the traditional saying that Eskimos have fifty words for snow, Kate decided to compose some of her own, and Fry speaks them over a constant ticking beat, with occasional nagging from the composer to get on with it. She wanted him to read them because "I wanted a voice that could project both authority and warmth" (from the interview in Classic Prog). Personally, I feel that he majored too much on the warmth, since his voice is at times uncharacteristically difficult to hear and very soft. Definitely the novelty song of the album.
AMONG ANGELS - the final song is Kate initially solo with her piano, singing a reassurance to someone who is feeling uncertain and alone, telling them that they are surrounded by unseen angels. An orchestra provides lovely light and shade as the song progresses.
I like this album very much (even with the novelty number, although the skip button has sometimes been employed!). It took a little while to grow on me though, which is a good thing for me since it's usually the ones that I love immediately that lack staying power. It's atmospheric and definitely contemplative for the most part, so it's one for the late evenings or the chilly first thing before anyone else is stirring. Recommended!
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 Lake Tahoe
4 Wild Man
5 Snowed in at Wheeler Street
6 50 Words for Snow
7 Among Angels