My favorite album – or at least one of my top 5, desert island picks – is Kate Bush’s 1985 classic Hounds of Love. While there are plenty of great songs on her other albums, none of them are as good in their entirety as Hounds of Love, and I believe it holds its own the strongest against contemporary music. Echoes of Bush’s style have resurfaced recently in the music of artists like Bat for Lashes, Florence + the Machine and Glasser, to name a view.
Hounds of Love, A Classic Album Under Review takes an in-depth look at the album, and gives some background on Bush’s unique career. It provides the viewpoints of a handful of knowledgeable people, which include drummer Charlie Morgen, rock journalists Kris Needs and Lucy O’Brien, and pianist/musicologist Chris Ingham.
The film traces Kate Bush’s career up to the release of Hounds of Love, from her first single “Wuthering Heights”, off her debut album The Kick Inside, which introduced her to the world as a precocious, enigmatic, “interesting-looking” young woman amidst the British punk and New Wave of the late 70s. It’s amazing to think that with a piano-driven single about a Bronte novel, she managed to be featured in magazines like ZigZag, (edited by Kris Needs) which covered bands like Primal Scream and The Clash.
Bush had an especially elfin look about her in her early career and she sang in a higher-pitched, less natural-sounding voice than she later settled on for Hounds of Love. One of the critics on the DVD mentions that there was some suspicion that Bush was an artsy invention of EMI, with whom she had a development contract (something of a myth nowadays in the music industry).
Her next two albums, Lionheart and Never For Ever, were the products of working heavily with producers and not quite getting the results she wanted. They gained her enough success however that she was given creative control for the next album, The Dreaming, which the DVD critics lampoon for critical failure. I actually like most of that album myself but I do get bothered by Bush’s constant messing around with her voice: being overly theatric, putting on Cockney accents, etc. It gets very over the top and the critics suggest that the music was also unexpectedly aggressive after the ethereal piano of her previous albums, perhaps to contend with the punk scene. It apparently got a very confused reaction from the public, and as one critic says, in one of those great British expressions, it seemed like she “had lost the plot.” I’m sure that her somewhat manic music videos didn’t help…! Ah, the 80s.
It was somewhere right before this that Bush became very interested in an early sampling machine called the Fairlight. It was later used on huge hits like “Sledgehammer” by Peter Gabriel and “Thriller” by Michael Jackson, but Never For Ever was one of the first commercial albums on which it was used. Charlie Morgen explains how she used it to layer real instruments with the sampled sounds. This was to come into play even further on Hounds of Love, which Bush recorded after receding from the public for awhile and focusing on her art. At this point in the DVD, Morgen launches into interesting detail about Bush’s directions for the drums. For example, he says that she told him from the beginning that there would be no cymbals on the entire album. I’m embarrassed to admit that as many times as I’ve listened to it, I have never noticed that!
Another thing I missed, probably since I’ve only heard the album on CD, was that the second side was titled “The Ninth Wave” and had its own theme apart from the first side. It’s certainly true that the first half contains all the hits and everything possibly radio-friendly. I learned the most from the DVD about the songs on this second half, which include the nightmarish “Waking the Witch” and “Under Ice”; their conception and construction are analyzed in fascinating detail by the critics.
Naturally, if you’re a fan of Kate Bush, you will enjoy this DVD, but musicians of any kind should appreciate its attention to arrangements and musical style. It gives excellent insight into Kate Bush’s unusual creativity.
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