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Or Is It Fifty-One? Kate Bush Counts The Words For Snow

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I don’t want to belabour the point, but I’d like to begin by returning to a rhetorical question I’ve asked in more than one other review: what is pop music for?  To entertain?  Surely that’s its major function.

But even those of us who shuddered at the news, back in the late seventies, that The Ramones had learned a third chord sometimes like a challenge.  So we then turn to those artists who entertain, sure, but who also want to see just what they can do with the idoms of western popular music.  We turn to Robert Fripp, Frank Zappa, Robert Wyatt; we turn to Portishead, Sigur Ros, Crystal Castles.  And I hope we turn to Kate Bush.

The Return Of Kate Bush

Fans of this amazing artist will remember the dozen-year gap between 1993’s The Red Shoes and 2005’s Aerial.  The former is my least favourite of all Bush’s albums; the latter, her “comeback,” while more than promising (don’t you hate that word?), just never really stuck with me, play it often though I did.  Bush then released in interesting revisioning of eleven songs from The Red Shoes and its predecessor, The Sensual World, on an album called Director’s Cut.  But in late 2011 came the magisterial, seven-song, hour-long 50 Words For Snow.

What’s The Verdict?

In my reviews, I often urge people unfamiliar with the artist under examination to go get the album I’m writing about, insisting that those who don’t know the artist will like the album nonetheless.  But you know what?  I am genuinely unsure what people who are not familiar – perhaps intimately familiar, as I am – with her other work will think of 50 Words For Snow.  I know nothing else like this album. The songs range from seven to almost fourteen minutes; with a couple of local and minor exceptions, they largely eschew the traditional verse-chorus format; they aren’t ambient pieces, but they aren’t, really, “songs,” either. 

Foreground Music

I just made up that term.  50 Words For Snow is the kind of music that probably won’t work as an “accompaniment” to anything (washing the car, making dinner, reading the paper); at the same time, it requires quite an investment of time and an even greater investment of attention to appreciate it properly.  But you know what?  It’s worth your time and attention.  And it needs and deserves repeated playings.  Put aside your preconceptions, clear an hour in your calendar, and let Kate Bush entertain you – and, yes, educate you a bit, educate you about just how far pop music can go, at least in her idiosyncratic but assured direction.


Check out our review of Lionheart.

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