Tuesday 22 November 2011

Kate Bush - 50 Words For Snow

50 Words For Snow is the second album from Kate Bush this year and certainly a cause for celebration for fans.  I've always felt, however, that I'm missing something, that I just don't get it.  To an extent, this continues with this album.

A typical Christmas album this isn't.  This is a darkly evocative vision of winter, each song an icy nocturne, snowflakes drifting in moonlit skies across shivering tundras.  It is, though, typical of Bush's unusual work.  There's a song written from the point of view of a snowflake, a song about a yeti and a thirteen minute requiem to shagging a snowman before he melts - "And when I kiss his ice cream lips / his creamy skin / and snowy white arms surround me".  Bush demonstrates an expansive vocal range, her voice taking a different character with each song - from spoken storyteller, to purity, sexually provocative and, in Snowflake, her best choirboy impression.

Musically, too, this is varied.  Each track depicts a snowy sonic landscape through rich musical textures.  The piano and strings of Among Angels have a softness about them, whilst Misty has a jazz trio feel and Lake Tahoe at times sounds like a Schoenberg art song.  The title track, meanwhile, has an acid house bassline, above which Stephen Fry guests by listing different words for snow, beginning with the poetic and moving into much odder and amusing territory, whilst Bush speaks each consecutive number increasingly provocatively.

Problems lie, though, with the song length.  The album is only seven tracks long, but average song length is around nine minutes.  Each of the songs are predominantly based around one musical idea, though subtly varied, which can sound monotonous.  Take the title track for instance.  After five words for snow, you know where the song is heading.  Twenty words at most would've sufficed.  Thirty words in and I'm ready to skip on.  Fifty words later and I'm surprised I've made it to the end, largely due to that bassline.  For sure, this is the sort of album to slowly lose yourself in, getting swept along with its atmosphere and richly inventive instrumentation - repeated listens are necessary.  But the overly long tracks give an air of self-indulgence, making it difficult to totally melt into the music.

There are some stunning musical ideas in this album, I just wish they were more concise.  I can't help but feel Bush is trying too hard to be different and, in the process, has created an album that pleases her wild imagination more than the listener's ears.


Gizzle Choice Tracks:
* Among Angels
* 50 Words For Snow