I have to come clean: I’m a phony. A poseur. I mean, am I really adding anything novel to the now sizable discourse on your work by naming Hounds of Love as your number one album of all time? Who doesn’t already think this?
The truth is, my whole raison d’etre is to be smarter than everyone else, and this raison suffers when I start rehashing what other people have said. By choosing Hounds of Love to finish off this list, I run the risk of telling you shit you already know. Like how this was your best selling album ever; like how Q Magazine ranked it as the 48th of all time, and the third Greatest Album of All Time by a Female Artist; or like how NME thinks it’s the 41st best British album of all time; or like how Slant put it at number 10 on its list of Best Albums of the 1980s.
I know that you don’t give a toss about any of that. Nor do I: this list isn’t about summing up your career in a magical three albums. It’s not about making rhetorical curlicues around your impressive body of work. Nor is it about pleasing the readers. Rather, this is my love letter to you: an unhip tribute to your voice and your oeuvre, one that imperfectly describes how entirely helpless I feel when hearing you sing, so much so that I long for the simplicity of those days when I was just an infant, when being helpless was basically my occupation.
I’ll just start with the basics. Hounds of Love was issued in 1985, when I was a mere seven years of age, listening inexplicably to Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by Mozart, or a gross John Philip Sousa compilation. To give you some context, this was around the same time as the release of Prince’s Purple Rain, Madonna’s Like a Virgin, or Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms. When Hounds of Love was released in the UK, it beat out Like A Virgin as the number 1 album on the UK chart: no small feat, considering that many were under the impression that your career was pretty much over.
Case in point, in August of 1985, New Musical Express (NME), Britain’s answer to Rolling Stone, published one of those dreadful “Where Are They Now?” articles about you. Soon after, Hounds Of Love was released, following up on your truly excellent The Dreaming (1982), after which the rest of the world knew never to doubt you again: Hounds was at number 1 on the British charts before that year was out. You’re so baller!
But none of this explains why I am obsessed with Hounds of Love. So let me tell you:
I had a dream the other night where I was confronted with a massive case full of drawers, each one containing a different Kate Bush song. I opened one drawer at random, and found Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) thus enclosed. In my dream I was like,”What is this? What even is this?!” I couldn’t articulate what this song was, and now, fully awake, I still struggle with it. Running Up That Hill is where excellent bands such as The Knife and Chvrches would like to go… Sorry guys: it’ll never happen. But what is happening, exactly?
You compare Running Up That Hill with Hounds of Love (the song) or The Big Sky, where you have clearly established song structures, and it leaves you wondering ‘What is this song. It’s blessed, it’s miraculous, like the Pyramids, like childbirth.’
And whereas Running Up That Hill is more like a text message set to music than a traditional song, Hounds of Love is a little more conventional in its construction, while at the same time being explosive and feminine — in other words, pure Kate Bush. The Purest Kate Bush. By the way, it has been beautifully covered by The Futureheads. Not pure Kate, but still an interesting tribute:
So, can I just tell you, Kate, that by the time we come to the extended coda at the end of The Big Sky, you have already sealed this album’s fate as wholly integral to your personal mythology, bravely referring to the background vocals as your ‘sisters’, and taking us into a musical celebration, suggestive of an epic score for a film that could never be made.
Even your slower songs clamp into my heart, as is the case with Mother Stands for Comfort, and like the vast majority of your songs, this one is a kind of poem on musical stilts, with Eberhard Weber’s haunting fretless bass notes mirroring the distinctive portamento of your Fairlight synth lead. So so dope.
And then, with these emotions having been built – eerie cities in tender landscapes – hereupon enters Cloudbusting.
Based on the true story of psychologist and philosopher Wilhelm Reich and his son Peter, and inspired by Peter’s memoir, entitled “A Book of Dreams”, Cloudbusting is a magnificent rendering of that veil lifted from a child’s eyes as he matures. In other words ‘Pure Kate Bush’. There are those songs, those moments, that recall the Eighties’ most sunniest, promising days, when all that was required of us was wandering about in empty fields, no shoes, no sunglasses, legs dangling off the tailgate of a car, humming to ourselves without pretense.
You’re like my yo-yo / That glowed in the dark
What made it special / Made it dangerous
In those days, our parents were still our heroes, gas was cheap and inconsequential, and our days were filled with cartoons, movies, and overt positivity:
But every time it rains / You’re here in my head
Like the sun coming out
Ooh, I just know that something good is going to happen / And I don’t know when
But just saying it could even make it happen…
There are those songs that keep us pinned in the mental space of a child, yet still aglow with the sensual energy we had for our first loves. Ending in a blissful march towards the intersection of steampunk and musical theatre, Cloudbusting is one of those songs.
After hearing the first half of this album, and having a moment to rest on the beginning of its second half with the very beautiful And Dream of Sheep, one might find himself asking “How it is possible that the playfulness of a teenage girl and the graveness of a priest can simply coalesce and sublimate in the voice of one woman?” Likewise, “How was it possible for those last few songs to feel so completely effortless and inspiring, and yet so epic in scope?”
Which brings us, rather neatly, to “The Ninth Wave” concept album. Songs leading up to And Dream of Sheep together form the suite, entitled Hounds of Love. Everything after is a second suite, mysteriously called The Ninth Wave, a concept album based on a painting of the same name by Russian Romantic painter Ivan Aivazovsky. The concept of this suite is, in Kate’s own words, “About a person who is alone in the water for the night. It’s about their past, present and future coming to keep them awake, to stop them drowning, to stop them going to sleep until the morning comes.”
So it follows that Under Ice possesses a more lyrical and cinematic quality. This leads abruptly to Waking the Witch, a song runs that thin line between baroque pop and progressive rock, and is more reminiscent of Siouxsie and the Banshees than anything you have done prior. Though not radio-friendly, and certainly inaccessible to someone who bought this album just to hear The Big Sky on repeat, I think Waking the Witch is a brilliant reminder of your range and creative musicality: odd times signatures, veiled references to Celtic folk music traditions, and odd brushes with medieval Christianity, this song is easily one of your most complex lyrically and compositionally.
I think the Jig of Life is a brilliant tribute to your Irish roots, and I think Hello Earth is kind of sad. And finally, having taken us through a multifaceted journey of loss and eventual redemption, you leave us with The Morning Fog, a song that mirrors the bucolic vision found in the painting for which this concept album is named, while putting a bright bow on an otherwise dark exploration of personal torment.
To conclude this list – this letter – I would muse that if Lionheart is a charming cottage in the English countryside, and The Sensual World is an upscale London flat in, say, Kensington or Bayswater, then Hounds of Love is one of those untouchable fucking mansions, owned by a duke, in far away Buckinghamshire: luxe, gothic, ornate, dangerous… Furthermore, anyone who says that Hounds of Love is not your master stroke is just being an ass. Or, as you Brits might say, ‘a daft cunt‘.
Words being what they are, I’ll leave it at this: I want to fucking live in this album.
I’ve been writing about your life and work for over a month now, so it’s not strange that I had a dream about you a few weeks ago. I came your house in South Hams, and your assistant (a dead ringer for Devon Aoki) opened the door. I presumed you put her there to throw me… it didn’t work.
“Where’s Kate?” I asked. She led me to you. You and I embraced. Then you made me cookies and we ate and talked about things pertaining to me, not you. It was much like a nice lunch with my mom. I longed so deeply to express how I felt about you, and your music, but in the same way I can’t shout in dreams, I was too overwhelmed to tell you. Soon after, we embraced again and I left your home, headed back to my own. It was probably the closest you and I will ever come.
Kate, I know it would never work out between us – me a gluttonous, headstrong American, besieged by a nasty egotism: a self-styled metrosexual Mark Twain; you a beautiful, somewhat melancholy Englishwoman, raised on sixties mysticism and modern dance training: Maya Deren meets Stevie Nicks. But were we ever to meet, out there in the deep Atlantic, out where Titanics sink, and are found only a lifetime later, might there at last be some glimmer, some hope of our combination that neither of us could have foreseen?
You should know that you’re in my head, and have been there for years now. Please don’t ever leave.