Tuesday, November 22, 2011

50 WORDS FOR SNOW - Kate Bush

YEAR: 2011

LABEL: Fish People

TRACK LISTING: Snowflake, Lake Tahoe, Misty, Wild Man, Snowed In At Wheeler Street, 50 Words For Snow, Among Angels

IMPRESSIONS: I really connected to this album immediately upon the first listen in a way which I never seemed to do with her last album of new material "AERIAL" in 2005. The sparseness of the instrumentation and the patience and confidence with which Kate unfolds each song (a couple of them top 10 minutes) give the album a definite winter feel (which, of course, is deliberate -- even down to the sounds of wind-blown snow between some of the tracks); however, I also found this to be one of Kate's warmest albums ever and one I found myself riveted to from the first note. Kate's sure piano playing is perfectly accompanied by the sympathetic drumming of Steve Gadd; I really can't say enough about the beautiful touch Gadd shows on the drums throughout the album. Cries of nepotism at the inclusion of Bertie on vocals for the opening track are frankly immediately silenced in my mind because the boy shockingly proves worthy of the spotlight here. I admit I wasn't convinced on this year's remake of "DEEPER UNDERSTANDING" but here Bertie's soaring "boys choir" vocal is actually impressive; he manages to sing with feeling as well and naturally demonstrates many of his mother's singing style which he comes by honestly. Kate's voice has now mellowed from her younger days; the high-pitched silver-throated songbird now sings at a lower register and she deliberately wanted to explore the sound of high male voices in contrast with her vocals. Bertie fulfills the boys choir male voice admirably and then the adult male tenor of Stefan Roberts soars throughout the ghostly "Lake Tahoe". Experiment successful, Kate. The potentially silly concept of a woman sleeping with a snowman in "MISTY" actually is imbued with a potent erotic charge and takes the listener by surprise with it's impact. Even the playful title track which features Stephen Fry intoning 50 different words for snow manages to go from trivial to a sort of winter mantra by the song's midpoint. After the highly-praised but, I found, remote "DIRECTOR'S CUT" album released earlier this year, I was slightly apprehensive about the release of "50 WORDS" but it certainly snuck up on me. I found it actually to be her most "involving" and "strong" album since . . . well, let me see . . . I suppose since HOUNDS OF LOVE itself. And you know my opinion of THAT album. 2011's "DIRECTOR'S CUT" was really just an academic exercise and the excellent but sprawling double album "AERIAL" (even though it was nominated for an album of the year Penguin Award) sort of staggered about for me. Before that, "THE RED SHOES" concept album (while still excellent) was a kinda Santana-style round robin album packed with guest stars 8 years before Santana's "SUPERNATURAL" album and 1989's "HOUNDS OF LOVE" follow-up "THE SENSUAL WORLD" (while also still excellent) had something of an unfocused and detached quality. So yeah, I guess as a complete album, "50 WORDS FOR SNOW" is Kate Bush's most successful project since 1985's classic "HOUNDS OF LOVE". And no one could be more surprised to hear me say that than me!

MY FAVOURITE TRACKS: Snowflake, Lake Tahoe, Misty, Snowed In At Wheeler Street, 50 Words For Snow, Among Angels

GUEST ARTISTS: Steve Gadd (drums), Danny Thompson (bass), Albert McIntosh (vocals on "Snowflake"), Stefan Roberts (vocals on "Lake Tahoe"), Andy Fairweather Low (vocals on "Wild Man"), Elton John (vocals on "Snowed In At Wheeler Street"), Stephen Fry ("rap" on "50 Words For Snow")

FACT SHEET: 50 WORDS FOR SNOW is Kate Bush's tenth album and the second released on her own "Fish People" label. It is a concept album of seven songs "set against a backdrop of falling snow". The earlier songs on the album feature songs which find Kate exploring the contrast of higher male voices alongside her now-lower vocals. The album showcases Bush's imaginative, off-kilter subject matters for songs which for which she's specialized her entire career. The album opener "Snowflake" features her son Bertie on what amounts to the lead vocal in the role of a snowflake falling to earth amid the noise of a world which hopefully will be muffled by a covering of snow. "Lake Tahoe" is the story of a Victorian ghost who is searching for her lost dog named "Snowflake". "Misty" is the tale of a woman who sleeps with a snowman; he later melts after a night of passion. "Wild Man" finds a small group of travelers encountering the Yeti in the Himalayas who cover up his footprints in the snow so no one will find him. "Snowed In At Wheeler Street" finds two lovers who are constantly reincarnated only to have their love thwarted time and again. Kate wrote the title track after musing on the old idea that Eskimos have 50 different words in their Inuit language for snow; the track features Stephen Fry reciting them including some invented by Kate herself which should come into the lexicon immediately: "anechoic", "blown from Polar fur" and "spangladasha" among them. The album concludes with a "Among Angels"; a love song to an undemonstrative lover.

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