You may be wondering why a fantasy author is posting a review of a Kate Bush album. The reason’s simple: I happen to believe that, as well as being an enduring and popular singer/songwriter, Kate is also – you guessed it – a fantasy author. Sounds crazy? Let me explain.
Kate Bush sprang to the attention of both the public and yours truly with her first single, Wuthering Heights, in 1978. In many ways, this iconic song defined Kate’s manifesto: personal, experimental, haunting, literary. She’s been all these things consistently throughout her career. But the one thing she remains above all else is a storyteller.
Wuthering Heights tells the story of a ghost roaming the Yorkshire Moors in search of her lost love. It’s Emily Bronte’s tale rather than Kate’s own, but it’s a tale nonetheless. There are echoes of it conceptually in several of Kate’s later songs, including Watching You Without Me (Hounds of Love) and, from this new album, Lake Tahoe, in which the ghost of a Victorian woman emerges from the water to seek her pet dog.
Okay, so Kate can do gothic and ghostly. That alone doesn’t make her a fantasy author, but we don’t have to look too much deeper to find the rest of the proof we need.
All we have to do, in fact, is consider the bulk of the songs on 50 Words For Snow. Apart from that ghostly lady I mentioned, there’s a duet between a woman and a falling snowflake, a story of a night of passion with a snowman (who melts, leaving – naturally – a damp patch in the bed), an ode to the Yeti, a tale of immortal lovers meeting over and over again through eternity … do I need to go on? If you like folklore, or read books by authors of fantasy or magic realism – people like Neil Gaiman or Jonathan Carroll, maybe – this is familiar territory.But more than that, this album has the feel of fantasy. Listen to it, as I have, many times over, and tell me you don’t agree.
Glance back over Kate’s earlier work and you’ll find any number of other fantasy tales: an experiment to make a weapon that uses sound to invoke terror, haunted ballet shoes that possess their owner, a woman who learns how to become invisible, another woman who falls in love with a swan, then turns into one … have I made my point yet?
It’s this fantastic literary slant of Kate’s that keeps me coming back to her. Oh, and there’s the astounding music too. In this respect, she continues to evolve in extraordinary ways. The songs on 50 Words For Snow are, for the most part, long and dreamy affairs, with Kate’s vocals woven artfully through everything from choirboy sopranos to a surprisingly powerful baritone from Elton John and even the plummy tones of Stephen Fry. There may not be many melodies you can hum in the shower, but there’s the same richness and power Kate achieved with her last album, Aerial. It’s that manifesto again: personal, experimental, haunting, literary.
Still think I’m wrong about Kate’s manifesto? And the fantasy author thing? Well, just remember that if 50 Words For Snow doesn’t sound like a conventional collections of pop songs, I don’t believe it was never meant to. 50 Words For Snow, like all the other Kate Bush works that came before it, isn’t a pop album at all.
It’s a storybook.