Now, this, this is what you call an end to a magnificent run. Releasing an album, Hounds of Love, in 1985, that if you’d have dropped it today, yesterday, and many days in the future it would trump whatever was out there, and be the de facto best album of the year. So, far beyond whatever the hell else was released that year, Rain Dogs by Tom Waits, Tim by the Replacements, Psychocandy by Jesus and Mary Chain, Fables of Reconstruction by R.E.M., This Nation’s Saving Grace by the Fall, New Moon Rising by Husker Du, Iron Maiden’s Live After Death all great, but all falling short of the vision presented here…on this year, the year she knocked Madonna’s Like A Virgin out the top of the English charts, no one could touch the sheer quality of music Kate created. Anyone can make something similar to those other greats, but can you touch a true icon?
Taking a three year breather from the truly unheralded heights of 1982’s The Dreaming when everybody was ready to count her out, she came out from the shadows with another shot across the bow aiming far more forward than any of her peers attempted to shoot.
After receiving a commercial drubbing from the inspiring but ultimately too challenging (for its time) release of The Dreaming, Kate was experiencing a weird state lacking stimulation to do much music. Rather than mire herself too much in the dumps of insecurity, she took a vacation and spent more time with her family and partner. While away, eating chocolates, having a good time, and enjoying her bit of luxury, she commissioned the creation of a 48-track studio. Once completed, this studio would allow her to free herself from the restraints any record label would impose on her. Early demos she created via Fairlight CMI synthesizer, LinnDrum drum machine, and piano, gave way to fairly more strident sessions based on Irish folk accompaniment and art rock experimentation.
|Kate Bush and her Fairlight|
Youth, Killing Joke bassist, who played on the album, rightfully says the production gives you a clue of what’s coming:
“It gives the album a slightly futuristic atmosphere,” says Youth. “She gave me some direction, let me do what I liked, then she chopped it up and arranged it in the Fairlight. It doesn’t have that natural dynamic arrangement and progression that you have with musicians playing together – it’s quite flat and modern. People work like that today all the time, but then it was quite unusual. It was about selection rather than musicianship, the currency of ideas reflected in the music rather than academic virtuosity.”
— as told to Uncut Magazine.
|Hounds of Love album cover.|
The conception of the album was for it to have two sides, based on separate suites. The first suite, the Hounds of Love section, would be where all those avant-pop singles would reside. Tracks like “Running Up That Hill” a put yourself in my shoes mix of post-punk, R&B, and electro-dance music was extraordinary. This is the music you hear on the radio right now, mixing samples and pitch-altered vocals, this was Yeezus-like autotune art before it was nary a thought in anyone’s mind. “Hounds of Love” the uplifting anthem to naivety that everyone wishes they could write, so much so that everyone would much rather cover it, than try to top it. “Do, do, do, dos” and strings matching the welcoming natural spirit envisioned by the cover photo of the album.
“The Big Sky” takes sonic cues from Big Country (any wonder that Kate lent vocals to an album of theirs a year later) and the life force of just taking time to look up in the sky and wondering, she creates this magnetic Afro-influenced dance banger that just keeps building relentlessly with new percussion be it handclaps or shape-shifting drums. “Mother Stands for Comfort” reimagines the feeling of Peter Gabriel’s Security sonic entreaties and creates this first hint of darkness, amidst all the sampled sonics imbibing the recording.
This first side ends splendidly on the string-driven “Cloudbusting”. Taking Wilhelm Reich‘s genuinely interesting “cloudbuster” ideas (as related by the wide-eyed view of his son) she entreats us to this brilliant combination of real and sampled strings, intertwining with the feeling of anxious optimism that Peter Reich felt hoping that his papa’s dream would occur. Its such an interesting track. In it, you can hear the dance of youth (all strings and sashaying major chords) mixing with the marshall feeling of adulthood (rolling percussion and urgent vocals), together they create one of the most melancholic hit dance songs to ever grace the charts. This side, so genuinely deserving of all the success (the first in the US coming with “Running Up That Hill”) dictates a new kind of pop music that had yet to exist in that era. This side, was the one that flowed like jazz manna to Kate, in that time.
|“The Ninth Wave” cover inlay.|
However, the side that sticks closer to the heart, on second thought, is the Ninth Wave. This second side, the one that Kate struggled mightily to decipher and record, the one that delayed the albums release, was the one that could live outside of its time and is the more rewarding listen. Culminating thoroughly all the influence her Irish folk music roots, Pre-Raphaelite intonations, and Romantic lyricism into one flowing, personal thought was the true achievement found on the album. Taking lyrical clues from Alfred Tennyson’s poem “Idylls of the King: The Coming of Arthur” (Wave after wave, each mightier than the last,
Till last, a ninth one, gathering half the deep, And full of voices, slowly rose and plunged
Roaring, and all the wave was in a flame), and emotional cues both dark or hopeful from the harrowing lost at sea novel “The Cruel Sea” plus stylistic visual influences from Sir John Everett Millais “Ophelia” and her owned warped, modern satirist version of it “The Hogsmill Ophelia”, all together aiming to create a suite that played more like a grand story or film than a simple sonic jaunt.
|Sir John Everett Milllais’s “Ophelia”|
|Kate’s “The Hogsmill Ophelia”|
This is something you can hear her relate a bit about, in plain voice, throughout this illuminating interview: