50 Words for Snow
Kate Bush has made a career of turning musical convention on its head, consistently challenging and delighting fans even as she frequently confounded critics. With her most recent release, 50 Words for Snow, Bush is at it again, taking ostensibly seasonally-themed songs and melding them into a cohesive hour-long collective story-book of haunting, longing and ill-fated love.
Listeners accustomed to complexly-produced records such as Bush's The Dreaming or Hounds of Love, may find her most recent release simplistic, even a touch austere; but there is plenty of life in these songs for those who are patient. Central focus on 50 Words for Snow is given to Bush's expressive voice and rich, evocative piano playing, with the accompaniment of strings and the usual rock accoutrements of guitar, bass and drums used sparingly. Bush takes her time with the songs, allowing for the mood to develop fully and giving sufficient insight into the chiaroscuro interplay of notes and silences. Adding to the overall story-telling feel of the album, Bush shares the singing duties on several songs with featured guests, trading vocals with her son Bertie Morris, renowned actor Stephen Fry and even Sir Elton John.
Lyrically, Bush has always pushed thematic boundaries, and she doesn't disappoint on 50 Words for Snow. From a sexual encounter with an animated snowman who comes into her bedroom through the window in "Misty," to a drowned ghost and her surviving dog, still faithfully searching for her in his dreams, in "Lake Tahoe," Bush continues to explore subject matter that no one else has the imagination or courage to take on. Even her duet with Elton John, the ostensibly conventional "Snowed in at Wheeler Street," describes the intransigent and often unrequited nature of love through the eyes of two lovers who meet and fall away from each other over the course of centuries and through multiple lives.
Sonically, 50 Words for Snow follows in the footsteps of her prior Aerial release in eschewing the all-too-pervasive trend of dynamic compression and overly-produced digital artifice. The CD has a warmth and solidity to it, and possesses a fluidity and ease that is reminiscent of analog. With the exception of Steve Gadd's drums, which can sometimes sound a little dry, there is air around the instruments, and Bush's close-miked piano in particular sounds full and life-size, complementing her understated but masterful playing.
Unlike other holiday or seasonal recordings, Kate Bush's 50 Words for Snow is timeless and resonates with listeners all year long. I know it has with me.