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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.

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