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1 September 2010

Kate Bush - 'Hounds of Love' (EMI)

It's 1985 and while the charts are packed with a-ha, Live Aid, Madonna and Whitney Houston, Kate Bush put out Hounds of Love and subversively managed to slip an insane vision into the record shelves of many middle-Britons. We all know Hounds of Love, being the first side of the LP, with 4 out of 5 smash hits there. But it's The Ninth Wave, the subtitled B-side where Bush stretches out and works some magic. But they're the yin and the yang, together making a monster that forever cemented her place in history (and were her famous last words, in a way). So should we dissect it? I enjoy both halves equally, because it's hard not to jump and sing along with 'Hounds of Love' and 'The Big Sky', and of course my arty proclivities love the flipside. Despite the blip of 'Mother Stands for Comfort', side A is just unfuckwithable. 'Running up that Hill (A Deal with God)' is Teutonic, scary, and thunderous; it's beautifully painted with digital synthesiser chiaroscuro, as is much of the record. The production techniques began on The Dreaming take on a more focused, pop-orientated approach here, but it's no sell-out. 'Hounds of Love' begins with the whispered 'Its in the trees... it's coming!" and it helps construct a strange Gothic/neo-romantic (but miles from the New Romantic Morrissey-shit) vision with tinges of horror film influence, or maybe just Dark Shadows. And then 'Cloudbursting' would just sound so heavy if you converted that monotonous riff to distorted electric guitars and had Deep Purple or someone play it. There's female sexual energy baked in the grooves here but I don't fetishise this record at all -- it's almost like it takes the so-called reinvention of pop sexuality by mainstream stars like Madonna and outdoes it, but without even trying. And then we flip it, and hear the familiar piano plinkles, but this is 'And Dream of Sheep', not 'Wuthering Heights'. I do have a soft spot for all songs that begin with words like 'and', 'of', 'for' -- they feel unfinished, or more like moments captured. Here, the swelling dramatic melodies are perfectly carried by her singing and I wonder what percentage of British music-purchasers ever listened to this half more than once? "The Ninth Wave" is a wonderous suite, flowing together like one complete piece and I think conceptually linked by the theme of communication breakdown. There's certainly enough language here -- and the spoken parts in 'Waking the Witch' make me think of role-playing games and fantasy geeks. But the lyrics are fluid, escaping, and did I mention that 'Watching you Without Me' has one of the most beautiful key changes in popular music? It's a subtle shift/lift-off that elevates the song to a higher plane, etc. etc. 'Jig of Life' could have probably been swapped with 'Mother Stands for Comfort' to make side 1 a flawless wall of upbeat pop, but I guess balance was a consideration. The funny thing about my relationship with this record is that I only got into it a few years ago; since I grew up in the US, the only Bush of my adolescence was that shitty alterna-grunge band (the political dynasty notwithstanding). My flatmate at the time did grow up listening to Hounds of Love and he turned me onto it, so many nights were passed with this playing in the kitchen. It felt almost weird and retro to spend 2007 rocking out to a 22-year old pop album that is easily found in any charity shop, but it hit me and felt like a nice refreshing answer to the smorgasboard of half-written song-orientated muck oozing from the so-called 'underground'. And even better was finding the VHS collection of her videos -- I like to imagine that Donald Sutherland really is her father!

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