It’s genius marketing strategy that Kate Bush’s new album, 50 Words For Snow, is released just as the winter solstice is stirring outside. Who better than Kate Bush to hunker down with on a cold winter night, stare into a candle flame, tip a glass of wine, and entertain some serious intimacy? Bush’s feverish followers, waiting sometimes years between new releases, will indulge in their passion for the art-rock goddess.
The new album finds Bush conjuring wispy piano chords while musing with her hushed multi-range voice on the mysticism of snow. It’s an ambitious project that misses very few ideas about snow. Unlike Paul Simon’s “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover”, we get all 50 words for snow here, assuming phrases like “hunter’s dream” and “ankle breaker” constitute words. My favorite snow word offered: “poland-sent-it”.
The music is often dreary and meandering. An indulgence in mysticism or religion finds her soul deep in her psyche but wallowing in shallow execution. Opening track “Snowflake” finds the cold white stuff heralding no less than the origin of man with Bush assuming a first-person godlike point of view. “I was born in a cloud”, she begins, and after trekking the ascent of man sings, “I am sky!”.
I am tipping my second glass.
This notion, or condition, gets hip deep in the snowdrifts and runs through the entire album. She muses about the man who fell to earth while prancing on simple and amateurish piano chords that seem only the beginning of a creative process. A rough draft of music.
Better is her bizarre take on “Frosty The Snowman”. In “Misty”, she is seduced by Misty the snowman who apparently is a little chilly in the love department. She sings, “so cold next to me, I can feel him melting in my hand”, with all the drama of her most serious work. Here she paints a frightening, maybe enlightening picture of a man made of snow melting in her bed with nothing but the empowerment of women left on the soaked sheets.
But there seems little reason for the distant “Wild Man”, the first and probably only single off the album, about the discovery of an ancient man and the attempt to communicate with him. “We found footprints in the snow”, the lyrics read, constituting an entry in Bush’s snow files.
Her duet with Elton John, “Snowed In At Wheeler Street” is god-awful. A creepy cloying song about a tragic 20th Century love affair that sounds like an old Ashford-Simpson composition set against the backdrop of a concentration camp. Is she truly referencing the Jewish Holocaust in a call and response duet with Elton? – “Then we met in ’42, but we were on different sides. I hid you under my bed, but they took you away.” Ironically, Elton hasn’t sounded this good in decades.
As alluring as 50 Words For Snow seems on the verge of, it is as often a cold affair. Its only intimacy is that we all share some kind of poetic notion about snow. Bush comes close to tapping into that shared consciousness, but never succeeds in conveying that to a great piece of music.
On her official website, there are heaps of praise for the album from several major media critics. I’m glad for that because I’ve always loved her music. But for me, for now, here’s a snowball aimed right at it.