Kate Bush can do anything. For those unfamiliar, Bush made British music history by being the first female singer with a number one, self-authored hit song on U.K. charts , “Wuthering Heights” in 1978 . Her new album, 50 Words for Snow, is all about, well, snow. The average Manitoban (resident, not newspaper) would seem to know all there is about the stuff. However, Bush is British and has a different perspective.
Bush has put in a lot of work with this disc — arranging, writing and producing the album herself. She has guest singers on most tracks, including Elton John and spoken word by Stephen Fry. The efforts pay off, revealing a playful and meditative exploration of snow.
“Snowflake” opens the album, sung from the perspective of a falling flake. Bush’s son, Albert, performs lead vocals. His alto voice contrasts Bush’s huskier tone, giving delicate melody to the piece. Bush’s duet with Elton John on “Snowed in At Wheeler Street” is another solid pairing. The two voices play those of lovers, who have missed meeting one another in past lives.
Bush takes risks, too, with songs like “Lake Tahoe.” Stefan Roberts and Michael Wood, lending to the ghostly feel of the song, sing a haunting harmony throughout. It clocks in at 11 minutes and is about the ghost of a woman who lost her dog.
In the titular “50 Words for Snow,” Stephen Fry recites a list of words for snow while cheered on in the chorus by Bush. Some are plausible, like shimmerglisten or terrablizza, while others are far more strange, like Santanyeroofdikov or faloop’njoompoola. Somehow this track works. Somehow they all do.
Be it “Misty,” about a tryst with a snowman, or “Wild Man,” about the Yeti, Bush has a mysterious power to make these songs engaging. The entire album has a subdued sound — simple piano, various strings, long track lengths. It strikes a very wintry mood.
Snow is mundane. It is cold, common and familiar. Bush takes a whole new approach to it with this album. While it may not become the bestseller of the year, it definitely has the mark of the season. One may not want to hear of snowmen and “phlegm de neige” in June, but it does make the winter feel different.
Kate Bush doesn’t care if it’s strange to sing about the Yeti. Nor is it strange to ask Stephen Fry to read a bizarre list of words on an album. And because of that, along with her maverick attitude, Kate Bush can do anything.
4 stars out of 5