CLASSIC REVIEW: Kate Bush, Hounds of Love
Updated: Jan 9, 2022
Blogging for AntiArt has brought me down a lot of interesting pathways. The most bountiful and exciting to me by far has to be my deep dives and obsessions into the genre of “art pop”. In 2020, artists like SOPHIE, Eartheater, Arca and others had virtually no place in my listening digest. As I began to appreciate the niche with plenty of recommendations from mutuals, I discovered that it was a really boundless genre with a rich history and thriving contemporary scene. To me, art pop is kind of the perfect marriage between what I consider as “AntiArt” and the more widely appealing genre of popular music. It allows mostly female and trans artists a lane to fully express themselves and experiment while still having a built-in audience that continues to stay excited. It has slowly become my most listened to genre, with Homogenic by Björk somehow creeping up to become my favorite album of all time. Throughout my explorations, I have missed an art pop OG, Kate Bush. I had heard the singles like “Wuthering Heights” and “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)”, but never gave a full length LP of hers a shot.
I'm pleased to say, her fourth record Hounds of Love really lives up to the hype, and even surpasses it in certain ways. Doing my research for this album revealed a lot about Kate Bush and her process. For one, I found out that she is the sole producer of the entire project. Cleverly using a Fairlight CMI synthesizer to sample everything from film snippets to broken glass to metal clanking, Bush fully fleshed out her already artistic sound to filmic proportions. Contrasted with the synth and the machine programmed drums is traditional instrumentation like the iconic balalaika on “Running Up That Hill” or the Australian didgeridoo on “The Big Sky”. On top of that, this is also a rock album in spots. Bush really got specific with the sound to a point that what was produced was 100% authentic to her. In an interview with Nightflight in 1985, Bush made a great point in saying “Reassessing music is important…it’s important to take a break to create a new energy for a new album.”. She was able to find creative ways to answer the question: “what does a Kate Bush album sound like?” without just doing the same album over and over again. While her music always had a baroque sound to it, from what I understand Hounds of Love was a much more daring record with a much fuller mix.
The record is broken up into two suites. The first is five songs, four of which are commercial singles. “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” is a bonafide classic in any genre, and in my opinion there are many factors as to why this song is such a standout. As Bush pointed out in her Nightflight interview, it was this idea of persistent rhythm that differentiated this album from her last. The programmed drums build the intensity from top to bottom, making the track both danceable and contemplative. Bush’s supreme singing and songwriting about swapping “places” or gender roles with her lover kicks Hounds of Love off with a hopeful disposition. There is a real sense of creative freedom, as well as romantic empathy coming through in not just the words she says, but the world she creates for herself in the background. The title track begins to sow seeds of isolation and fear that are more relevant to the second suite of the album, but still carries that ray of light presented on the opener. Whether or not she is searching for it, love is like a giant hunting dog and she is a wounded quail. “I've always been a coward/And I don't know what's good for me” she confesses, as if she is hiding from the uncertainty of a relationship with someone.
“The Big Sky” is another really perfect single from the record; it’s a pop opus that floats above the clouds. I really love the way that the bass, tamboruines and more traditional drums lay down a foundation for Bush and her guitarist to riff over top. There is this high-wire balancing act between the predictable and the adventurous that is performed quite well here. “Cloudbusting” is the final single in the tracklisting, and it is by far the most thematically odd. It draws significant influence from the story of pseudoscientist Wilhelm Reich and his son in their efforts to artificially create rain with devices called “cloudbusters”. The concept is so far out that it works, and Bush is such an adaptive songwriter that she is able to mine a lot of compelling content out of this. My favorite line is definitely “And everytime it rains/You’re here in my head/Like the sun coming out/Like your son’s coming out”, it just flows so effortlessly, like a classic piece of literature. It utilizes many of the same elements that made “Running Up That Hill” so phenomenal, but adds more militant percussion and emboldened group vocals. YAYYAYYOOOOO!!!!
“Mother Stands For Comfort” is a gem in the first suite, a track that connects to “Cloudbusting” in it’s familial themes. Over a very alien and industrial sampled beat, Bush plays piano and sings about a mother who is there for her son no matter what. The gunshot metal sounds are so well placed underneath lines like “Mother will hide the murderer/Mother hides the madman”, the broken glass is also very proto-Nine Inch Nails in my opinion. Once we hit “And Dream Of Sheep”, the record begins to take on a completely new form. “The Ninth Wave” is what has been used to describe the second suite, and in 1992 she detailed it a bit more with BBC Radio 1, “It's the idea of this person being in the water, how they've got there, we don't know. But the idea is that they've been on a ship and they've been washed over the side so they're alone in this water.” There is a past, present and future section that directly references drowning in this water, with other tracks laced in between. It’s no wonder that Pink Floyd took such an interest in Bush at an early age, a song like “Waking The Witch” with it’s elongated chords and “wake up love!” interjections from British men would have easily been a part of The Wall or Animals.
“And Dream Of Sleep” opens up the suite with twinkling piano chords and more impressive vocal acrobatics on the part of Bush. The sampler allows her to add sounds of seagulls and the sea in order to set the scene without her having to conceptually dive in. Instead, she more subtly explores the idea of sleep and wakefulness as a concept. “Under Ice” is the first track that really just is a score to a movie that doesn’t exist. It’s so symphonic and Bush gets so low with her vocal register, singing about herself skating on ice frozen over and crashing through. It is very dramatic even though everyone listening knows exactly what is going on, it’s like watching a car crash in slow motion. I love all the little samples of ice breaking and men standing around, making it ambiguous as to whether or not she was able to escape. “Watching You Without Me” stands out as being a more poppy cut deep in the album, it has a quirky sort of bounce to it even though it’s clearly very depressing. Whether Kate is literally a ghost haunting her old house, or she feels emotionally separated from her partner, there is this pervading idea of her not being able to properly communicate with them. She sings “You can't hear me/You can't feel me” earlier in the song, but as it progresses, her voice begins to get distorted by backmasking or a messy signal. It’s almost like we gain the perspective of her lover, completely unable to understand her like she is speaking a language that is foreign to us.
“Jig Of Life” is most certainly the biggest nod to Bush’s Irish ancestry, with a full on riverdance breakdown at the very end. This song ties into the drowning themes, where Bush is fighting and begging for her life as she is suspended in the water. “Never never say goodbye!” she pleads out, “Come and let me live girl!”. It vaguely reminds me of “The Devil Went Down To Georgia”, I could almost see Bush having a dance off with Satan for her soul back, it’s absolute madness. At this segment in the review, I think it’s worthwhile to stop and reflect on all that has been talked about so far. She is able to go from rock music about love to Lord of the Dance to industrial piano balladry without hesitance. Yes, the sampler definitely unlocked a “whole new world” for her, as she has said before. The sampler is not what is producing the ideas or performing the material itself, that’s all Kate. Next to SOPHIE, Bjork and probably Grace Jones, she sits proudly on the art pop Mt. Rushmore because she is a visionary. She fishes out an idea from deep in her transcendental subconscious and makes it come to life by whatever means necessary. That is the beauty of art pop and why it has become my favorite genre, each new artist is shaping music, poetry and visual mediums in their own image, never fearing to go brand new with it.
The album concludes with “Hello Earth” and “The Morning Fog”, which almost seem like extended epilogs to “Jig Of Life”. The former is a further zoomed out version of “The Big Sky”. Rather than having a proclamatory and panoramic pep to it, it plays as extremely empty and dark. She is able to see storms spin and form over America from space, but there is nothing she can do about it. It’s all quite daunting, and the ending seems to confirm that with it’s eerie synths and spooky ambience. “The Morning Fog” is a much more low-stakes closer that definitely feels appropriate, connecting back to the first suite with a plucky and expressive atmosphere. Overall, I must say that I was floored by this album. There is never a dull moment, and there were many twists and turns that I did not expect at all. The sampling was not an element I knew was so deeply rooted in the making of the album, and as a sucker for samples, Bush definitely delivered. This is a perfect album, and I can anticipate it heavily being featured in my rotation.