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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Kate Bush

Hounds of Love

Review by Steve Alspach

Kate Bush found her true ground in 1982's "The Dreaming" which was her first self-produced effort. As inventive and creative as that album was, "Hounds of Love" takes that creativity a giant step further. Many consider this to be the peak of Kate's work. Engineered by such people as Haydn Bendall and James Guthrie (who worked on Pink Floyd's "The Wall"), the album is wonderful to listen to and has passed the test of time with flying colors.

The musicians on this album are: Kate Bush, piano, CMI Fairlight, and vocals; Stuart Elliott, drums; Del Palmer, bass, Fairlight bass, vocals, and engineering; Alan Murphy, guitar; Paddy Bush, balalaika, dijeridu, violins, and fujare; Charlie Morgan, drums; Johnathan Williams, cello; Youth, bass; Morris Pert, percussion; Eberhard Weber, bass; The Medecci Sextet, strings (arranged by Dave Lawson); Brian Bath, vocals and guitar; John Carder Bush, vocals and spoken vocals on "Jig of Life"; Donal Lunny, bouzouki and bodhran; John Sheehan, fiddles and whistles; Kevin McAlea, synthesizer and synthesizer programming; Danny Thompson, double bass; Liam O'Flynn, Uillean pipes; The Richard Hickox Singers, vocals (directed by Richard Hickox, arranged by Michael Berkeley); John Williams, guitar.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2001 Year Book Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)
The album starts off with a relaxed feel to it. The lyrics, though, pose an interesting offer - "If I only could / I'd make a deal with God / and get him to swap places." The song, towards the end, grows a bit chaotic in places with atonal background voices and pounding drums, but Kate keeps the simple melody and plodding rhythm throughout.
Hounds of Love
From the frantic opening voice ("It's in the trees! It's coming!") to the end, this is a joyful song. From Kate's desire to "Take my shoes off and throooow them in the lake" to the vocalised hounds who are chasing her, this is a fun number. The drums play in a syncopated manner throughout, keeping the song that much off-kilter.
The Big Sky
Two chords and a whole lot of vocal exercising from Kate. This song rocks the hardest of any on the album. The lyrics of the chorus "You never understood me, you never really tried" seem a big enigmatic given the bouncy mood of the song. The end section, where Kate displays a "Hey Jude" McCartney-esque vocal technique over a repeated line, may be a bit formulaic, but fifteen years later it's still effective.
Mother Stands For Comfort
An abrupt change of mood here where a mischievous girl hides behind her Mom's apron strings. Sounds of shattered glass are interspersed with a very plain arrangement that has Eberhard Weber's fretless bass at its anchor. The song is very enigmatic, its mood running counter to the innocent-sounding recorders (courtesy of the CMI Fairlight).
Cloudbursting
Based on events Kate read about actual weather control experiments, this song sounds a bit melancholy at times, hopeful in others. The CMI Fairlight was used to good extent on this song, especially the banjo sound at the introduction. This number, set to a march rhythm, features little more in its arrangement than strings and simplistic drums. (This album, like "The Dreaming" before it, used no cymbals at all, similar to Peter Gabriel's work from the early 1980s.)
The Ninth Wave
Based on the writings of Tennyson, side 2 of the album is a conceptual piece of music consisting of seven songs. Never has Kate been as adventurous in her writing and arranging as she has here. Put the headphones on and turn out the lights - this is a piece of work that demands several listenings to be fully appreciated.
And Dream of Sleep
This is a delicate ballad where Kate is ready to drift off to sleep. There is one point, though, where the strings play a strong, haunting, unexpected chord, serving as a premonition of what's to come. Towards the end she conveys the sense of drifting off to sleep perfectly, the song ending on a suspended chord.
Under Ice
The strings, tense and driving, are featured in the arrangement here. Kate sings of skating on the open ice, but the background effects indicate that all is not well - thunder cracks in the distance, and she eventually sees a figure under the ice - it's Kate, trapped under the ice, looking up at herself. This is a rather frightening song, and the visual image makes it more so.
Waking the Witch
The opening, which features a backwards piano chord growing louder, and peaking with a telephone voice saying "…This is your early morning call", can still send goose bumps. A series of voices, encouraging Kate to wake up, follow, the last is a cheery "Look who's here to see you!" (Word of advice to Kate: Don't. Just pull the covers over your head and stay there.) One can only imagine who is glaring over Kate's bed. All hell breaks loose, chaotic piano arpeggios are played hurriedly and repeatedly, and Kate's voice becomes chopped and unintelligible as she is hastily brought before a tribunal of some sort. "You won't burn," devilish voices growl. "You won't bleed." Chuch bells toll, chants are sung in Latin, and the tension appears insurmountable. Then, towards the end, there is a sound that belies the image of a medieval witch trial, a strange anachronism - a helicopter buzzes the scene, apparently disrupting the trial, and a voice calls "Stay off of the bridge! Stay out of the water!" The song fades with the bass and drums keeping the same rhythm they had throughout as the helicopter flies off in the distance.
Watching You Without Me
The mood is much more subdued in this piece. Danny Thompson's double bass is excellent here, as he finds a perfect cross between bowing the strings and plucking. Here Kate sounds to be singing in a daze, and the feel is a bit lethargic, as though she is in a daze from everything that went on in "Waking the Witch". There are Beatle-esque moments of backwards-tracked vocals that seem to add an eastern feel to this piece.
Jig of Life
Kate gets Celtic on this cut that features an Irish jig in the middle and a spoken verse at the end of the song by brother Paddy Bush. The instrumentation on this one is very traditional with bagpipes and Uillean pipes. Little surprise, then, that "Jig of Life" was arranged by Bill Whelan, best known for his "Riverdance" music. The number, though, carries a dark undertone through it, rather unusual for Irish jigs.
Hello Mother Earth
Starting with a NASA sound bite, this song is a paean to this planet of ours. Here Kate sings with a simple piano backdrop, but then a string arrangement comes in for the bridge, and carries her through the chorus. When the chorus suddenly stops, and a men's chorus comes in, the effect is ethereal and chilling, to say the least. The track ends with Kate whispering "Go to sleep, little Earth."
The Morning Fog
The resolution and the simplest song in this suite, Kate voices her love for her family and friends. "D'you know what?" she asks. "I love you better now." It's a warm song, portraying an image of a morning fog lifting to a bright sun, and the arrangement displays a warmth with the knowledge that Kate is safe and sound, and all's right with the world.
 
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