Kate Bush’s fifth album is 30 years old today. Here’s why Alice Fleetwood still adores it.
We’d already had the amazing comeback after three years away from the public eye and a host of rumours: Kate was obese, she’d secretly had a child, EMI executives hated The Dreaming and she would never work again. I say ‘we’ because my cousin Neil is the biggest Kate Bush fan ever and we spent the summer of 1985 pondering the possibilities of the soon-to-be-released album.
Together we watched Kate debut her new single on Wogan. Wow. Two drummers, an archery / tribal thing going on, the band slowly moving forward to the beat and Kate, at a lectern, staring into the camera and singing about running up a hill and making a deal with God.
It was powerful and I had the sense there were stranger things yet to be unleashed from this ever-changing and totally unpredictable artist. Much as I loved the song, it puzzled me. Was it a love song? It sort of was, with its repeating phrases “c’mon darling, c’mon angel”. To my younger ears, it seemed to be simply about trying to understand the other’s position, but to my mature ears, I understand it as being full of pleas that a woman might make in an abusive relationship: “see how deep the bullet lies”; “is there so much hate for the ones we love?” The “deal with God” is the woman having the man’s power and the man having the woman’s weakness.
This song is in my Top 5 ever. When the album was released, almost a month after Running Up That Hill, we (OK, mainly Neil) played it over and over. It was the first mainstream concept album for my generation, who were too young for new wave or prog rock. After the burst of arty pop rock songs on side one (Hounds of Love) you would have to turn over (yes, on the turntable) to play the album’s concept side, The Ninth Wave.
The mood was completely different after Cloudbusting’s upbeat “I just know that something good is gonna happen” and the orchestral steam train chugging in and fading. And Dream of Sheep is slow, spacious, a little scary but a little optimistic, like a nightmare turned into a dream rather than the other way round: “Little light, shining…”
“There is no hope; each time I hear Hello Earth, I feel as though I am being pulled into the water with no life jacket…”
The song is about being adrift in the water, presumably after an accident of some kind. Kate’s beautiful voice swims out of the music to haunt you. The person in the water is calm but on the verge of hallucinating: “I can’t be left to my imagination“. The songs move between beautiful melancholy to nightmare scary, perhaps resembling the teenager that I was. Under Ice takes the drowning woman’s hallucinations a little deeper: she is trapped under the ice while above, skaters cut snow with their blades. Her little voice gets louder as panic rises: “It’s me!” I love how she then recreates the drowning woman as a witch who herself, on being drowned, dreams she is a blackbird with “a stone around my leg“.
An interviewer once asked Kate who her favourite singer was and without hesitation she said, “a blackbird”. Those of you lucky enough to see her live show Before the Dawn in 2014 (yes I was there with cousin Neil) will recognise just how much Kate loves blackbirds…
Watching You Without Me is a love song from an almost-dead person: “You didn’t hear me come in, you won’t hear me leaving.” Jig of Life further proves her versatility; it sounds at first like a traditional Irish jig but with the old blues riff about the crossroads and trying to make another deal (“C’mon let me live”). Hello Earth, backed by the Richard Hickox Singers, reminds me of monks lamenting the passing of time and all the sorrows of daily life. There is no hope; each time I hear this song, I feel as though I am being pulled into the water with no life jacket… The last song, The Morning Fog, begins as the first one, with light: “The light / Begin to bleed“. It feels like a song of rescue although it’s not certain that the person will be rescued. It is another love song to tell loved ones – “Do you know what? I love you better now.”
Every song on both sides of this album is half a love song, the other half being pain, loneliness or some other terrible force that a teenager might be preoccupied with (and don’t be deceived by The Big Sky… it’s so sad), but do you know what? Each time I play Hounds of Love, I love it better.4811 Views
@Aliceliverpool is a football-loving, vegetarian, birdwatching leftie but not a social worker as you might presume.