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Music of the Week — August 27, 2006

Kate Bush: The Hounds of Love

Some years ago (probably closer to twenty than fifteen) a co-worker lent me his copy of a Kate Bush best-of collection called The Whole Story. I liked most of it quite well and have had in mind ever since to hear more of her music, but it wasn’t a high priority, and it was only recently, when I paid a dollar or two for a used cassette of The Hounds of Love, that I finally heard the album from which my favorite songs on The Whole Story were taken.

I haven’t been disappointed. This a brilliant album. Also a very eccentric one—I’m trying not to use the word “quirky,” which has become rather tiresome, but it fits. There are a few odd touches here that don’t work. For instance, a couple of songs are marred by an effect which I suppose seemed provocative at the time but now just sounds like a cd on fast-forward. But overall it’s adventurous without being tiresomely “experimental,” and the quirky touches are more often effective than not, like the melodic barking on the title song, which actually works. Really, it does.

I’ve had the impression of something a little spacey and dizzy about Kate Bush (which made the title of one song, “Hello Earth,” amusing at first glance). But the artist who wrote, sang, and produced this album while still in her mid-twenties is no dummy, and no fragile flower. I’m not sure how one would categorize it. AMG uses “art rock” and “progressive rock,” and those will do. It seems that few are able to discuss her music without using the words “lush” and “romantic,” so keep those in mind, too. Hounds is richly melodic, complex and lavish in production and arrangement, and very feminine in a way that’s both warm and strong, but not hard-edged in the way of too many self-consciously Strong Woman artists. The lyrics, always very important for me, are well-crafted and interesting, and although they’re frequently (well, mostly) somewhat cryptic one feels that they actually have quite specific meanings; it’s just that she doesn’t give us crucial background information. “Cloudbusting,” for instance, is obscure, bordering on nonsensical, unless and until you know it’s about the child of the crank sex-maniac psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich, and then it makes perfect sense.

The final seven tracks (which comprised the second side of the LP release) are a sort of suite which seems to describe some kind of process of awakening, renewal, and engagement. It includes a few missteps: I could do without the mostly spoken and creepy “Waking The Witch,” which seems to involve the trial-by-water of a woman accused of witchcraft. And it includes the songs marred by the aforementioned fast-forward effect. Overall, though, it works, and ends beautifully with this:

Being born again
Into the sweet morning fog…
I’ll kiss the ground.
I’ll tell my mother,
I’ll tell my father,
I’ll tell my loved one,
I’ll tell my brothers
How much I love them.

I’m looking forward to hearing more of Kate Bush’s work, and I’m far from tired of this one.


By the way, I’m going to change this rating system, or do away with it. I intend it to be very much tongue-in-cheek, but I’m not sure other people would get the joke. I keep having this nightmare in which I try to explain to somebody like Kate Bush or Patty Griffin why I gave her album a B+. If you’ll recall, I defined "A" as being a masterpiece, by definition a rarity. A work can be very, very good, like this one, without quite reaching that level.



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