Album Review: Kate Bush’s “50 Words for Snow”
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From up on that hill, perhaps wearing a capelet over a flowy Victorian gown, Kate Bush has been regarded as a spirit saint of fearless individuality by a generation of musicians such as Björk and Tori Amos as well as younger mystics-in-training such as Florence Welch, Leslie Feist and Bat for Lashes. All that adoration in the ether must’ve stirred the reclusive British singer-songwriter to create not just one album this year — “Director’s Cut,” a reinterpretation of songs from “The Sensual World” and “The Red Shoes” — but also a second one, “50 Words for Snow,” an art-song cycle that veers from delicate to blustery but always with a sheen of elegance.
Bush grounds her songs in the permafrost of winter, with her piano work sounding like the first stirrings after a cold snap. “Among Angels” could be the soundtrack for plants stretching toward the new spring sun, but as much as it’s connected to the natural world, the song twinkles with something more ethereal. “I can see angels standing around you,” Bush sings in her windblown soprano, “they shimmer like mirrors in summer.”
With all seven of the songs clocking in at six to 10 minutes each, Bush takes her time, but the songs aren’t built of different parts; it’s more like mounting meditations on one theme. The opening track, “Snowflake,” is written from the point of view of falling snow, the kind of precious conceit only Bush and maybe a class of kindergarten children could get away with. But it’s a committed trance, a chase down a liminal hallway made of ice, dust and other fleeting natural phenomena. In the center of the song, Steve Gadd’s drums kick up and recharge the mission, one of many examples of his key influence on the album.
For all the concentration on the songs, there’s energy and humor too. “Misty” depicts a little knocking boots with a snowman; unfortunately, he’s melting right next to her. On the title track, Bush goads British actor Stephen Fry into naming, with flourish and deadpan ease, all the words for “snow,” which include “whirlissimo” and “bad for trains.” For the star-crossed love note “Snowed In at Wheeler Street,” Bush teams with Elton John, who sings with more conviction than he has in years. It might be cold in Bush’s world, but it’s far from frozen. It’s the vanishing world illuminated by a furnace-blast of life.
’50 Words for Snow’
Three and a half stars (Out of four)