Kate Bush | 50 Words for Snow (Fish People)

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cd kate-bushA concept album consisting of seven songs swirling around the theme of winter, 50 Words for Snow was clearly not created with a concern for airplay in mind.


Kate Bush fans wouldn’t be blamed for feeling like they’d hit the jackpot this year. Not only did the British singer/songwriter release her first album in six years—Director’s Cut, a collection of remastered songs (with completely new vocals) from her previous albums The Sensual World and The Red Shoes—but she followed it at the end of the year with yet another album, this time completely new material: 50 Words for Snow.

A concept album consisting of seven songs swirling around the theme of winter, 50 Words for Snow was clearly not created with a concern for airplay in mind. “Wild Man,” the first (and, if I were a betting man, probably the only) single released, was almost the shortest track on the album—and it’s over seven minutes long. The longest, “Misty,” clocks in at over 13 minutes and tells the story of an amorous encounter between a woman and a snowman.

Yes, really.

These days, airplay certainly doesn’t seem to be as much of a concern, especially for an artist of Bush’s caliber, who has been so influential and innovative that she can bloody well do whatever the hell she wants. And what she does is take risks. There’s a sense of liberation in these risks, though, that she’s doing what’s best for the song. Take the first track, “Snowflake,” which, as the name suggests, is told from the point of view of a snowflake and is sung almost entirely by Bush’s teenage son, Bertie, with his mother filling in only the chorus: “The world is so loud/ Keep falling. I’ll find you.”

In some ways, 50 Words for Snow could have descended into self-indulgence, but instead it remains hypnotic and beguiling. Jazzy arrangements braid with catchy melodies and soaring vocals (even after all these decades, Bush’s range continues to impress, though it’s lower, and with a maturity that conveys authority). Surprisingly, though, the song I return to again and again is “Snowed in at Wheeler Street,” a haunting duet with, of all people, Elton John, about two lovers (I know—Kate and Elton, seriously?) who keep meeting and running from each other across time and lifetimes. It could have been just plain weird, but instead it’s the highlight of the album for me.

After two albums in less than 12 months, it’s hard to imagine how Kate Bush can top this in 2012. Still, 50 Words for Snow is more than enough to see her fans through the winter. A | Jeffrey Ricker

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