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 Everett True

some observations upon hearing the new Kate Bush album 50 Words For Snow

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Kate Bush - 50 Words For Snow

This is all by way of sorting out in my own head as to whether I should stay with this album (will repeated listens pay off?) or am I a lost cause from the word go, a bad listener? This is Kate Bush, after all.

I’m not sure I like the title
I was aware of the myth around the Eskimo language having an unusually large number of different words to describe snow when I was 20. I’m 50 now. It’s not an eye-opener. Sure, there’s mystery attached. Yet the imagery is already familiar. I’ll go watch The Snow Queen, if necessary. Love that film.

I’m not sure I like the initial critical response
Something that always draws my hackles … music critics going on about ‘classic’ songwriting. It implies a shared tradition, a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way of going about things, one that excludes the way many females approach music, consciously or not. Hidden within the critical praise for the songwriting skills on display on 50 Words For Snow, there’s an inference that Kate Bush is one of the few female musicians who CAN write in this ‘classic’ way, and I sure don’t like that.

It’s nearly as good as Bat For Lashes
I put something like this up on Facebook, and then immediately withdrew my comment. It’s a cheap, easy laugh. There’s nothing wrong with cheap and easy laughs, of course – ask Ricky Gervais – but doesn’t it strike you as a little wrong that the handful of women who make music that superficially sound like each other are constantly reminded of the fact, yet the hundreds of thousands of male musicians who STILL sound like the bloody Rolling Stones never have that comparison drawn? Safety in numbers, and all that.

Truth is, 50 Words For Snow is closer to Tori Amos territory than Bat For Lashes, and that’s quite possibly why I feel so uneasy with it.

That guy on ‘Snowed In On Wheeler St’ has a bloody horrible voice
Shame. Fake emotion masquerading as content. Good song, otherwise.

Where are the bloody pop songs?
I like it when Kate Bush writes pop songs. 50 Words For Snow reminds me of another critically-heralded record, Drones singer Gareth Liddiard’s debut solo album Strange Tourist. Plenty to admire, of course – but is there anything to fall in love with? Where are the dynamics, the hook-lines, the choruses to yodel in the kitchen? The intimacy feels like it’s happening at a distance. I got pilloried in Australia for pointing out that Gareth’s record was very fine indeed lyrically, and even structurally, but hardly a pop record. There’s nothing critics love more than music that makes them feel superior, that they’re somehow ‘getting’ something the common herd can’t. The same applies here. Plenty to admire: but don’t we have opera or Radiohead for that already? As I wrote in that Liddiard review, I’m not a particular fan of concentrating too hard when it comes to music. Something either grabs you, or it doesn’t. Narrative is fine, though.

I love Kate Bush, and I want to love this album
And I can’t help being enthralled at the way she’s carried her audience with her. I can’t imagine for one second the doubtless legion of commentators who’ll be queuing up to praise the album liking it – or even listening to it – if it was by an unknown artist. Or maybe they would? It’s not for me to say.

On first listen, I’m really not very sure whether I’m in love with the new Kate Bush album or not. And I’d really like to be
Maybe that’s the whole problem.

Here’s a video. This is the catchiest song on the album, for what it’s worth. It’s a corker. It’s got a groove and everything. Watch this, and ignore all the above if you like. I really don’t mind.

Ann Powers used 50 words on NPR to describe 50 Words For Snow:

Powdery fantasia. Contemplative. Winter matins. Playful. Opium reverie. Grounded. Ghost story. Sensual. Artistic recalibration. Unhurried. Drummer’s holiday. Quiet. Ode to the white keys. Imaginative. Exploration of the lower register. Floating. Mother-son duet. Solitary. Snowed-in erotica. Collaborative. Joni Mitchell answer record. Inimitable. Supernatural space odyssey. What we’d expect from Kate Bush.

I disagree. Right now, I expect more. It’s her fault for setting the bar so high.

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There’s a lovely Kate Bush interview about the new album here.

15 Responses to some observations upon hearing the new Kate Bush album 50 Words For Snow

  1. Princess Stomper November 15, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    See, this is why I wade through all that tiresome gender politics bullshit – because at the end of it there’s a link to click on and sometimes it’s really good. Fine tune! I’ll have to hear the album now and see if I like it.

  2. Joseph Kyle November 15, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    Of course, it couldn’t possibly be worse as when Kate Bush decided she wanted to be Sheryl Crow:

  3. Andy Aldridge November 15, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    I actually liked it quite a lot – not as much as Aerial (on one listen) but quite a lot – although I agree that the “guy on ‘Snowed In On Wheeler St’” pretty much ruins what could have been *the* song on the album – I believe that the “guy” is Elton John and I’ve pretty much always hated his voice!

  4. Everett True November 15, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    Thanks, Andy. I did wonder. His voice is SO out-of-place, it physically hurts to hear him. Maybe she could reissue it at some point in the future without him … ?

  5. Andy Aldridge November 15, 2011 at 10:26 pm

    That’s pretty much exactly what I tweeted yesterday! https://twitter.com/#!/grange85/status/136107646469152771

    “I really, really hope there’s a mix of that track without Elton John on it mucking it up! #50wordsforsnow #katebush”

  6. Tom Warburton November 16, 2011 at 12:35 am

    Elton’s voice totally breaks the mood of that song as soon as he starts singing. I immediately wonder if I’ve got the Lion King soundtrack on by mistake and it all goes up I smoke. Maybe Mozzer would have been a better choice. Then again, maybe not.

  7. Mats November 16, 2011 at 6:01 am

    The middle of Misty realy forgives everything, but i am also very confused
    about this album.But when the Dreaming came i also thought it was very difficult for a long time, then i got “acess” to the songs and is one of my favourites
    Can this album work the same wonders?

  8. Matt O'Neill November 16, 2011 at 8:09 am

    I don’t really care about Kate Bush – but I really loved reading this. Especially the part about pop music. So many people I know seem to have trouble grasping the idea of just wanting something to dance to…

  9. Gillian November 19, 2011 at 2:28 am

    I have only heard the single so far, and liked it. But truth be told, my favorite Kate album has always been The Dreaming. I did like Hounds… but have been somewhat dissatisfied w/every album after that.

  10. Joseph November 20, 2011 at 4:33 am

    I’ll be honest and say I don’t understand the Elton John hatred.

  11. jeff November 20, 2011 at 9:53 am

    if you listen to steven frys voice it reminds me of the guy on the digital game of risk, listen to when he says some of the siberian names and listen to place names in russia,on the game, also the base line on 50 words for snow is pure kate bush, just like the man with the child in his eyes.

  12. steve November 20, 2011 at 11:53 am

    Elton John? Oh I was so looking forward to the album – that’s put a slight damper on things. But still, can’t be as bad as having Lenny Henry on a track.

  13. Lucy Cage November 21, 2011 at 6:11 am

    I don’t get the Elton John hatred either. I don’t understand why the mere suggestion of him being on the record would put someone off: it *could* have worked! As a cultural icon he’s an excellently colourful pop thing; as the co-writer and singer of ‘Rocket Man’, ‘Tiny Dancer’, ‘Song For You’ etc. I have no complaints at all. Dunno what he’s like as a person: I’ve only got stupid/untrustworthy media accounts to go on so I’m in no position to judge and it wouldn’t affect my appreciation of his performance either way.

    Having said that, as it turns out I can’t bear his contribution to 50 Words For Snow: to my ears it mars rather than enhances. I don’t like the way he sings on it and it turns a beautiful, charged, delicate song into a hammed-up plod. (Unlike Lenny Henry’s contribution to The Red Shoes which fits the song’s apparent intentions perfectly; it’s not necessarily my favourite KB track, but hey, the man has quite a voice and uses it well. And I LOVE Kate for getting Prince and Lenny Henry to sing for her on the same song.)

    Knee-jerk dismissals of Elton John (or indeed Lenny Henry) as Kate Bush collaborators by those who haven’t even heard the track suggest to me there’s something going on other than critical thinking: snobbery, homophobia, fear of being seen as uncool, anti-popism; I don’t know but I imagine anyone who’d kick off at Elton for being on one of ‘their’ records is also someone who thinks that The X Factor is responsible for all of society’s ills and bangs on ad nauseam about ‘proper music’.

    Do contradict me: this is something I’d rather be wrong about!

  14. Everett True November 21, 2011 at 6:40 am

    @Lucy, I head the Elton John contribution without knowing who it was. It’s fucking dreadful. Nothing to do with snobbery, fear of being uncool, homophobia, anti-popism etc (although I don’t really think those words were directed at me). That’s the extent of my agenda with Elton. I like some of the songs he performed in the 70s. I think it’s a shame he hasn’t written a decent one since then, and furthermore has helped ruined Disney music for a generation. I do, however, sadly agree with you that many of the reactions to the heartfelt “FUCK Elton” comment that I posted up on Facebook after discovering his identity, have verged on the homophobic – to the extent where I’ve considered unFriending several of those responsible.

    You could argue, however, that it was partly my fault for posting up such a deliberately inflammatory comment. This, and this alone, stayed my hand. Maybe it shouldn’t have done.

    For the record, I used to watch The X Factor (or Popstars or whatever it was called) regularly when I lived in the UK. I even had a semi-regular online series about it, which I’m – uh – not posting the link to.

  15. Lucy Cage November 21, 2011 at 7:11 am

    ” (although I don’t really think those words were directed at me).”

    No, they weren’t! And my comment was probably influenced more by the reactions on the Facebook thread than those here; it’s only really Steve’s comment here that set my teeth on edge! Hating Elton for ruining a song after you’ve actually heard it is a whole lot different to making your mind up to dislike an album just because he’s on it.

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