Newest Review: ... 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... more
Kate Bush's Winter Wonderland
50 Words For Snow - Kate Bush
Member Name: melinda3536
50 Words For Snow - Kate Bush
Advantages: Kate at her contemplative best...
Disadvantages: ...apart from the novelty song (see review!)
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!
Summary: An atmospheric return, with the odd foray into the sort of quirkiness that you expect from her!