Kate Bush’s long, beautiful winter of the soul.
Kate Bush’s newest album “50 Words for Snow”, her first in six years and only second in the last seventeen, is an elegiac, deliberately crafted, hauntingly beautiful suite of seven songs thematically constructed around the ephemeral, ghostly spirit of wintertime; an album of icy calm and quiescent warmth, frailty and august strength. The record begins with Bush’s adolescent son cooing the lyric “I was born in a cloud/ now I am falling” in a boyish falsetto over a lush yet austere piano line. From that point it unfolds into an ambitious and serenely soulful body of song, often comprised only of voice and muted, spare orchestration, a loving yet melancholic eulogy to the fleeting winter landscape. More broadly, it’s an album about the sorrow as well as the tenebrous beauty of transience and loss. The shortest song here falls just shy of the seven minute mark, with others stretching past ten, ennobling each song with it’s own spacious atmosphere to breath, each moment and measure the space to bloom into it’s own unique and brilliant crystaline form.
Coming closest to a conventional song structure here is ”Wild Man”, a sonorous and compassionate ode to a Yeti bounding through the Himalayan mountain side. Bush laments his feral loneliness, and warns of mysterious forces following his tracks, heeding “they have found your footprints”, “they will follow you/ they will catch you/ and they will kill you”; it’s hard here not to interpret this maternal empathy for her wild protagonist, and her frank disdain for such threatening and intrusive pursuants, as a lyrical analogy to her own fierce privacy and hesitancy toward public exposure. On the track “Snowed in at Wheeler Street”, a duet, curiously, with Elton John, she diconsolately sings her desperate desire to eternally relive one perfect day with a lost lover; accepting, eventually, finally, ”the world won’t stop turning”. She also draws parellels between the frail vulnerability of this human bond in the face of the interminable procession of time with images of empires crumbling; Rome burning, New York City on September 11th. Thus a poetic continuity is drawn between civilizations in collapse, the fading passion between lovers, and a single, unreplicable snow flake dissolving silent and alone amongst billions of it’s own brethren; it culminates in the beautiful, nakedly sad chorus of “I don’t want to lose you/ I don’t want to lose you again”. Whether this is to ascribe a finality, whereby the love story being told has definitively concluded, to suggest that the lovers of this song are dedicating themselves to one another for all of their remaining habitation of this world, or they are admitting forlornly that they will, assuredly, lose one another again, as certainly as the winter season brings first death and then renewal unto the earth, is left uncertain.
The center piece of the album is the song “Misty”, a beautiful, eerie ballad about a woman’s passionate night spent with a snowman become sentient, and her desperate impression of loss as she feels his cold presence melting into nothing as he lay next to her, redelivered to the heavenly aspect come dawn, leaving only twisted branches on soaking sheets in the morning. This song encapsulates the surreal, otherwordly allure of the album, and also, to a meaningful degree, Kate Bush’s own singular musical voice, and monumental talent as a worker in song. Here, a conceit which would seem absurd immediately in most anyone else’s hands becomes instead a bewitching encounter with a divine, fantastical musical province, an enchanting allegory of magical realism, full of acutely human pathos; even with her lover irrevocably gone, consumed by the same elemental forces which first brought him into being, she cries out in desperation to the wintery void “I can’t find him/ he must be somewhere”. It’s the tremorously beautiful, bleeding heart-beat of an album dedicated to a cold and evanescent season, to the tenous covenant between love and loss, woman and nature, suffering and ecstasy.