A few months ago I had the pleasure to review the latest album of Kate Bush. However, Director's Cut (see review) couldn't be regarded as a brand new release. In fact this CD contains a collection of old songs that got a facelift. At the end of that review I stated that people who wanted to hear new material from Kate Bush had to wait longer. Well, finally the moment arrived that I can listen to 50 Words For Snow, her first album since Aerial (2005) containing new material. People, like me, who found that album captivating, are likely to have similar feelings about this one.
50 Words For Snow isn't exactly what you would call a concept album. However, it does have a theme running through it and - no surprise - this theme is 'snow'. In general the album has a very mellow atmosphere very similar to the music on Aerial. Even the mellower moods from the early days came to my mind while playing the album over and over again. It has to be said that I liked these moods a lot. I prefer it above the more commercial sound that you can often hear on albums like The Sensual World (1989) or The Red Shoes (1993). This album is dominated by some jazzy piano played by Kate, and lightly played drums generally done by session musician Steve Gadd. It's not until the end that some more up-tempo tracks appear, but that's in favour of the album since these tracks suit the ambience perfectly. Most of the seven tracks last around ten minutes with Misty having a playing time over thirteen minutes. Contrary to what you might think with respect to the often sparse arrangements, this actually works very well giving each piece a chance to breathe, to grow slowly on you and become totally compelling. There's also the very occasional use of modern keyboards and computers as on Snowed In At Wheeler Street, though done in a subtle way that doesn't destroy the overall atmosphere.
Kate Bush makes considerably use of contributions from other vocalists including Elton John (Snowed In At Wheeler Street), Andy Fairweather Low (Wildman) and even her son Bertie, who's called Albert McIntosh (Snowflake). Although the use of these singers works very well, they don't have a large role in the whole picture. Most of the time, it is Kate's voice that gets all the attention. The most remarkable contribution perhaps comes from Stephen Fry whose spoken words list fifty words for snow on the title track. My highlight is without doubt the song Wildman. This piece contains several climaxes that you can often hear on progressive rock albums. It's difficult to describe how this sounds; you just have to listen to it yourself.
Undoubtedly many people still prefer Kate Bush's earlier works. However, on 50 Words For Snow she proofs that nowadays she's just as vital and inventive as in the past. Therefore I would highly recommend this album to everyone who enjoyed her music throughout her career.
*** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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