50 Words For Snow

Kate Bush

Fish People, 2011


REVIEW BY: Andrew Parrot


On “Snowflake,” the introductory track to 50 Words For Snow, Kate Bush croons: “The world is so loud, keep falling, I’ll find you.”

If there’s any artist for whom the world seemed overly loud, it’s probably Kate Bush. For someone who shot to popularity in a distinctly excessive moment in popular music history, she’s never seemed to relish the spotlight. More than anything, Kate Bush appears to treat her fame as a duty, a necessary by-product of her nearly unparalleled talents as a songstress.

In this sense, her 2011 album 50 Words For Snow is a brief emergence from a decades-long retreat. Coming six years after the release of 2005’s Aerial, an album that itself broke a 12-year album silence from Bush, 50 Words comes at an interesting point in her career. No longer beholden to a major label and with, admittedly, very little left to prove, 50 Words is an album for Kate Bush and Kate Bush only. This context enabled Bush to create an album that is, underneath its grand and cinematic concept, a meditation on the life of an art-pop icon who never truly wanted to become one.

As the title suggests, this record is a wintery one. Bush described the album as “set against the backdrop of falling snow,” and this sense of world-building is a central component of the listening experience, right from the start.

The aforementioned “Snowflake” kicks the LP off, and we immediately know that this is a different kind of record for Bush. We’re not getting a “Running Up That Hill” or a “Babooshka” to introduce the album; hell, we’re not even getting a “Symphony In Blue.” This nine-minute monster moves glacially, driven almost entirely by the simple pairing of Bush’s piano and vocal. “Snowflake” is also one of the first instances in which the album draws considerable (and refreshing) inspiration from early post-rock acts, particularly some my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Laughing Stock-era Talk Talk, in its free-flowing structure and subtle jazz elements. And while Bush is long past her once-electrifying vocal prime, there’s a quiet, tentative beauty to her performance here (and nearly everywhere on this record). Lyrically, with its first-person humanization of a snowflake, the track sets the tone for the entire album—spiritual musings on the season of winter, with emotional, distinctly human undertones.

“Wild Man” served as the album’s lead single and is about the closest thing we get to a classic Kate Bush alternative-pop hit, albeit filtered through the patient, snowy lens that permeates 50 Words. It’s a decidedly subtle single, but the way in which the timbre of the synths bounces off Bush’s voice is—dare I say it—Hounds Of Love-esque? And, lyrically, this track is another example of Bush using the album’s wintery theme to reflect, describing (in her typically pictorial way) sightings of a Yeti in the Himalayan wilderness. Kate Bush is a “Wild Man” in and of herself—reclusive, even as the outside world desperately attempts to track her down.

Sonically, the deeper cuts generally fall somewhere in between the two aforementioned songs. There’s the winding and cinematic “Misty,” the cavernous title track, and the gorgeous piano-led closer “Among Angels.” That’s before even mentioning the Bush/Elton John duet “Snowed In At Wheeler Street,” a surprisingly high-profile and well-executed collaboration for a record as intimate as this one.

The one major gripe I hold with 50 Words is that the album occasionally falls victim to its own atmosphere and commitment to sonic cohesion. Over the course of these very long and meditative tracks, the album has a tendency to blend together in a way that isn’t exactly flattering or exciting. There are moments on “Lake Tahoe” and, to a lesser extent, “Misty,” where Bush just seems to lose herself in the snowscape that this album conjures so well.

Now, as I’ve alluded to, 50 Words For Snow is not an album for the impatient, nor is it an album for those uninitiated into the Kate Bush canon. To a certain extent, this record requires the listener to “buy in”—to buy into the atmosphere, the world, the mythos that Bush is trying to construct through these long, winding tracks. However, if you’re able to navigate your way through what is a dense, esoteric blizzard of an album, there’s a quiet, art-pop gem waiting on the other side.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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