I’ve been enjoying Gemma Hayes’ album Let It Break, her best since her first, along with Bon Iver’s second album and Bombay Bicycle Club’s A Different Kind Of Fix, but my favourite album of the year has to be 50 Words For Snow by Kate Bush.
I bought it yesterday, unsure of how much I would enjoy it based on the reviews that cast a disapproving eye over the ‘casting’ of Elton John and Stephen Fry.
Five listens in and I absolutely love it.
It’s slow and spacious. The piano seems the perfect instrument to conjure up cold, glacial weather and yet, as many reviewers have said, the whole album has a warmth about it, as though it is wrapping you up against the cold. This may have to do with the recording itself, the sound of the instruments is exquisitely deep, subtely and expertly played, Kate’s voice soulful and emotional throughout.
The opening track is a wonderful way to start. Kate’s son delivers an openly naive vocal performance on Snowflake with moments of enunciation that echo the emotional depth with which his mother sings, especially on the line, “look up and you’ll see me” at 7.53.
I was completely thrown by Wild Man when I first heard it a few weeks ago. Not for the first time with a Kate Bush track, I didn’t expect what I heard at all and could hardly comprehend it until the third or fourth listen.
The album seems to have sonic nods (very subtle ones, mind you) to Aerial and Hounds Of Love and on the title track the kind of idosyncratic idea that made Pi so appealing lyrically on Aerial and Stephen Fry’s performance is wonderful, he’s surely the only person who could have done it with such a perfect mix of reverence and humour, and with that almighty voice. Elton also delivers a performance that ranks among the best of the latter part of his career on the highly emotive Snowed In At Wheeler Street.
I came to the same conclusion as Radio 4’s John Wilson during his interview with Kate, that “Misty” is not an actual snowman. It is in keeping with Kate’s lyrical interest in love and sensuality and feels like a centre to the album – it feels like the flip side to Aerial and a lot of the album reminds me of my favourite track on Aerial, A Coral Room, which is perhaps why I love the album so much.
This album takes me away to somewhere wonderful, the tunes are slow and soft and have a melancholy that, rather than being depressing, seems loaded to the brim with hope and possibility. It works beautifully as a long, languorous whole and further confirms that there are no artists out there who can be appointed ‘the new Kate Bush’ because there’s only Kate Bush herself and then those who pretend in her shadow.