Hounds of Love (1985)
Kate Bush became part of my world with the many hits that came off her Hounds of Love album when it came out in 1985. A friend of mine in the seventh grade had her earlier records too, so around that same era we’d hang out and listen to that hauntingly beautiful voice of hers enveloped in mystical artistic-pop melodies.
Kate Bush embodies that theatrical and mysterious, otherworldly and angelic, enchanting sorcery-like aesthetic that mesmerized my 13-year-old budding pseudo-goth self. She is a female icon of creativity, originality, sensuousness and independence. A song writer since she 11 years old, Bush was only 19 when her single ‘Wuthering Heights’ hit the top of the charts as a UK number one hit in 1978 off the release of her first record The Kick Inside, on EMI. Based off of early demos at the age of thirteen she was discovered by Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour who helped her record a better-quality demo that convinced EMI executives to sign her on.
A few years and several releases later, on her fifth studio album, Hounds of Love, as was on The Dreaming released three year earlier, Bush reciprocates a variety of instruments with her trusty Fairlight CMI synthesizer, with added piano, traditional Irish instruments, layered vocals, and accents added by a variety of musicians. She had built a studio near her country home and took a year completing the album working off demos she recorded a year prior. She also spent some of springtime in Ireland and worked on some tracks there.
A fascinating thing about this album is that it is produced in two suites; side A is ‘Hounds of Love’ and side B is ‘The Ninth Wave,’ conceptually written with style and texture inspired by Tennyson’s poems, that follows a story of a person alone at night drifting out to sea. The songs are a little weird and creepy as they move through a whirlwind of changes and frightening moments surrounding this person’s scary experience.
Totally characteristic of its overall feel, Hounds of Love’s launch party took place at the London Planetarium amidst a laser planetary light show.
Side A – Hounds of Love
‘Running up that Hill (A Deal With God)’ was the first single released off the album and is a song to just love right off the bat with its infectious running drumming sound throughout that keeps an unending pace, along with the bright brassy synth accents forming the melody, Kate’s icy penetrating velvety vocals, and the chilling eerie layering of background voices and desperate cries. All of that and the poignant lyrics makes this an unforgettable and iconic song about a very strong love between a man and women and the fear behind losing that great love and if they swapped places it might help them understand one another better.
And if I only could,
I’d make a deal with God,
And I’d get him to swap our places,
Be running up that road,
Be running up that hill,
Be running up that building.
If I only could, oh…
You don’t want to hurt me,
But see how deep the bullet lies.
Unaware I’m tearing you asunder.
Ooh, there is thunder in our hearts.
Is there so much hate for the ones we love?
Tell me, we both matter, don’t we?
You, it’s you and me.
It’s you and me won’t be unhappy.
‘Hounds of Love’ starts with a sample “It’s in the Trees, It’s Coming!” taken from a séance scene from 1957 British horror film Night of the Demon – and it kind of gives off that sense of horror, with the lyrics which are about hounds chasing you, which is really a metaphor for being afraid of love and running from it, afraid that it’s going to tear you, shred you to pieces.
When I was a child
Running in the night
Afraid of what might be
Hiding in the dark
Hiding in the street
And of what was following me
Now hounds of love are hunting.
I’ve always been a coward,
And I don’t know what’s good for me.
Here I go!
It’s coming for me through the trees.
Help me, someone!
Help me, please!
But what really gets me about this song: the marvelous cello that come in the chorus is just exquisite and the jagged off kilter tempo and beat throughout contrasted with Kate’s smooth and deep and throaty vocals, wraps you up in this waltz-y dance-y melody… and all the little “do do do’s” are playful and enjoyable.
‘The Big Sky’ Is grand and upbeat, and high pitched with a variety of vocal layerings, and a rumbling rhythm and fun quick handclapping and drumming and percussion by Charles Morgan, Del Palmer and Morris Pert, giving it a huge and powerful presence. The blazing guitars by Alan Murphy and there’s didjeridu on this by Kate’s brother Paddy Bush. It’s danceable and uplifting, and energizing. Kate’s vocal range is just remarkable, playful screeching near the end… exploring and going from high to low. The song is just about when you’re young and can enjoy just looking up looking at the shapes in the clouds in the big sky.
‘Mother Stands for Comfort’ just immerses me in the multitude of different sounds, the morphed globby orb sounds of Eberhard Weber’s bass playing, in this somber interlude, with its eerie whistle-y flutelike melody, and ghostlike layered vocals, about the dark subject of a mother’s love, who hides and protects her murderous son.
‘Cloudbusting’ is an epic song, as many can agree. The strings, by the Medicci Sextet, begins so bold and elegant, then this robust ominous thump rumble like heavy dark clouds about to burst, then the strings go into one of the most infectious melodies ever written, and Kate’s unforgettable velvety singing. It’s a song inspired by the relationship between psychologist Wilhelm Reich and his son Peter, and through Peter’s eyes, as written in A Book Of Dreams. The song was written to evoke the days of happiness when Peter was a little boy with his father when they were making it rain with Wilhem’s cloudmaking machine. The triumphant close of the music video, directed by Julian Doyle and conceived by Terry Gilliam and Kate, which features Donald Sutherland as the father (and Kate as the son), as he’s being driven off by the authorities, as he gestures to his son in the back window of the car to work their cloudbuster machine and make it rain, despite his arrest, is well, a kind of touching moment, a kind of fuck you to the authorities, especially when sky grows dark and the rain starts pouring. Kate Bush worked with Ken Hill, a designer on the set of Ridley Scott’s Alien, on the Cloudbuster machine, the design of which you might notice the similarity is very much inspired by swiss artist H.R. Giger who designed the Alien xenomorph.
The second side of the album, The Ninth Wave suite, is pretty experimental and I quite enjoy it. It’s really brilliant, despite and to its credit, its creepy quirkiness. The concept and story is basically Kate Bush’s worst terrifying nightmare put into music. It’s truly more than just songs, it’s a whole experience.
The first song ‘And Dream of Sheep comes in sweet and lush, with just this lovely piano, and Kate’s soft and cradled singing. As mentioned, this suite is about a person alone in the water at night, and this song is about that person trying not to fall asleep. Bouzouki and whistles sweetly performed by Donal Lunny and John Sheahan.
‘Under Ice’ is a very intense song, just horrifying, with sharp jagged cello strings, and the urgent way Kate is singing, and the pace gets faster and faster. The description and imagery of the ice is cutting, dark and cold, of a person skating on the ice. It’s a dream, the person in the water has fallen asleep and is having this awful dream of being trapped under the ice.
There’s something moving
Under, under the ice
Moving under ice
Trying to get out of the cold water
Something, someone–help them
In ‘Waking the Witch,’ you have various voices, provided by a number of people including Kate’s family, taking turns saying ‘wake up’ in different ways, with piano and sounds in the background. Then all of a sudden this onslaught of awful scary frightful computer-y sounds flash in and this deep threatening scary male voice is blasting out phrases with Kate’s layered singing. It’s a witch trial and the situation is harsh and tense and freaky. It’s rather terrifying to listen to but it just pulls you in and overwhelms you with its power.
‘Watching you without me’ is in an easy drowsy tempo, rocks back and forth with a myriad of sounds intermingling gently, swaying, with a section near the end of that flash of Kate’s computerized jagged vocals thrown in. At this point in the story the person is imagining home, and what the family is doing, wondering where they are.
You watch the clock
Move the slow hand
I should have been home
But I’m not here
But I’m not here
‘Jig of Life’ is done in a Irish jig folksong manner, with the use of traditional instruments – fiddles, bouzouki, uiliean pipes, didjeridu. Kate spent some time in Ireland in the studio and came away with lots of inspiration for this track. I love the way she has explored a folk song like that on this record, just out of place but within experimental suite, it just works. It’s about the person in the water’s future self, coming in to help, saying not to give up.
Now is the place where the crossroads meet.
Will you look into the future?
“Never, never say goodbye
To my part of your life.
No, no, no, no, no!
Oh, oh, oh,
“Let me live!”
“C’mon and let me live, girl!”
“C’mon and let me live, girl!”
‘Hello Earth’ starts off as sounding more traditional sounding compared to other songs in the suite, but then that normalcy trails off and turns into this so very creepy Georgian chorale chant “Tsintskaro” performed by the Richard Hickox Singers, which Kate heard and took from the soundtrack of Werner Herzog’s 1979 film Nosferatu The Vampyre. The song then flows back and forth between the different parts but ends on the chanting and wind blowing and Kate’s voice speaking in a whisper, in a strange made up foreign tongue. The idea for the song is about the stars looking down on the earth, seeing the person in the water from a different perspective.
Go to sleep, little Earth.
I was there at the birth,
Out of the cloudburst,
The head of the tempest.
Murder of calm.
Why did I go?
Why did I go?
Irgendwo in der Tiefe
Gibt es ein licht.”
‘The Morning Fog’ is a quaint little refreshing light and airy song to end the intensity of The Ninth Wave suite, and this masterpiece of an album. It’s the conclusion, the person in the water is rescued and they are rejoicing and grateful.