Home Music Discography Discography: Kate Bush: Hounds of Love

Discography: Kate Bush: Hounds of Love

The early years of Kate Bush’s career document one of the most forward-thinking artists of the 20th century as she wended her way through the pop industry, alternately experimenting and striking gold – challenging the expectations of her audience by furiously marching toward her own aesthetic horizon. It is a process, too, of Bush taking control of her own art. Hounds of Love is the delirious pinnacle – the culmination – of this first period, but you already know this.

By The Dreaming, Kate Bush was not just singer/songwriter/performer – she was the sole occupant of the producer’s chair, conceiving the most experimental work of her career thus far from start to finish. The results stand the test of time, but it has taken time. To call The Dreaming a commercial and critical failure wouldn’t be quite right – but given that the record label probably raised an eyebrow at the muted response, it’s all the more remarkable that Bush doubled down on the impulses that produced that album in making Hounds.

After four records in as many years, Bush decamped to Wickham Farm and built her own studio, something like the final brick in her kingdom of sound. Three years would pass between the release of The Dreaming and the unleashing of the swelling synth and primordial beat that form the opening seconds of “Running Up That Hill.” The Fairlight sampler – which had been so integral to that previous record – became the backbone of Hounds. Because of the recording technology now at her fingertips, Bush was able to move directly from the demo stage that commenced in January 1984 and begin building the tracks on top of these first recordings in the middle of that year.

As a result, the songs on Hounds of Love have an intricate architecture – the Gothicism that might have been taken as playfully tongue-in-cheek on “Wuthering Heights” is here blown out to album scale. It is dead serious without being self-serious; Gothic music, not goth music. A cathedral of sound with Kate Bush as architect and master builder.

Hounds of Love is really two records. In an interview promoting the album, Bush described the A-side as five distinct pieces connected by the theme of love. “Running Up That Hill” remains as overwhelming and epic on the 100th listen as it does on the first because of the small details lurking beneath the surface elements: the wailing vocalizations in the background of the final chorus, the way the guitar makes a counterpoint rhythm with the toms. It is easy to forget that the song is kind of a body-swap narrative, with the singer asking the deity to swap places with her partner so that they can better understand one another. That undertone of horror is amped up in the title track where love is personified as a pack of dogs hunting unsuspecting foxes; “It’s coming for me through the trees,” she sings.

The brilliant, Bush-directed video – her first, and another example of her ravenous artistic reach in this period – pays homage to the Scottish Highland set Hitchcock thriller The 39 Steps. No artist aside from Kate Bush could get away with the melodic barking she does in the pre-chorus – she commits to the bit and pulls it off with her unique brand of playful seriousness.

“The Big Sky” – which was released as the final single on the record with an accompanying video, Bush’s second directorial effort – undulates like a cumulonimbus, changing its shape subtly, adding layers, but at a scale the human ear or eye is overawed by. Alan Murphy’s guitar work lends a driving jolt to the song. And on “Mother Stands for Comfort,” the only thing close to a ballad on the first half, jazz bassist Eberhard Weber slithers beneath Bush’s melody ominously. The synth line that echoes the chorus melody hits the notes a split second after Bush sings, lending a sickly feeling to the song — but it’s a pleasant kind of sickness, with the piano adding an organic layer beneath the synthesized textures of the song.

The A-side close, “Cloudbusting,” is about parent-child relationships, too – but this time Bush takes inspiration from Peter Reich’s A Book of Dreams about life with his father, Wilhelm Reich, the experimental inventor and psychologist who was eventually arrested and thrown in jail in the U.S., where he died. Bush sings in the younger Reich’s voice and in the music video – not directed by Bush, but conceptualized by her and Terry Gilliam and directed by Python-collaborator Julian Doyle – plays the son, with Donald Sutherland as the father. Strings swoop as Bush tells the story of the bond between father and son and the impending doom lingering over them. Still, there’s an obstinate hopefulness shot through the track: “I just know that something good is gonna happen/ I don’t know when/ But just saying it could even make it happen.” In the video, Sutherland is dragged away in a black car as Bush triggers the titular machine, causing it to rain – a moment of triumph and despair all at once.

Bush foregrounds her storytelling in different ways on each half of Hounds. Where the A-side tracks are tight and self-contained – as much short stories as pop songs – the B-side is comprised entirely of a continuous suite called The Ninth Wave. In the interview linked above, Bush confesses that she couldn’t get away with giving the album two titles – showing that there were still some commercial limits she could not exceed – despite her conception of them as two distinct works.

These songs tell a surreal narrative that, in its broadest strokes, depicts a woman in the aftermath of a shipwreck floating out in the ocean, fighting off sleep (and thus, death) only to be sucked into a nightmare. In the fashion of a vision quest, Bush emerges triumphant in the end. Opener “And Dream of Sheep” has a lullaby quality. It’s the most delicate song on the record, but it’s still bolstered by Bush’s vocal power in the chorus sections before she dips into a near-whisper. “Under Ice” begins in urgency, the strings almost sound Jaws-like, as the singer dreams of ice-skating and seeing something move around under the ice. Bush sings “it’s me” before a voice whispers “wake up.” “Waking the Witch” transfigures the singer into a witch on trial, while “Watching You Without Me” has her haunting her own home.

But the need to live reasserts itself on “Jig of Life,” a Celtic reel wherein the ghost of the singer’s future self visits her past self and begs her “C’mon let me live.” The track closes with a poem recitation by Bush’s brother John before sliding into “Hello Earth,” a song that wrestles between pop and experimental sensibilities as the singer floats further away from her body. Punctuating the astral projection are voices calling her back, rescuers attempting to pull her out of the depths.

“The Morning Fog” closes The Ninth Wave – and, thus Hounds of Love. It’s a song of rebirth. Narratively, it concludes the story of the drowning woman: she’s been brought back from the brink of death and values her life anew. Conceptually, it ties the two sides of the record together. “I’ll tell my loved ones,” sings Bush, “How much I love them.” The theme of love returns, transformed and deepened by the presence of death. It’s a suitably Gothic happy ending, featuring the simplest lyrics on the album as the bass dances around the keys and Bush’s backing chorus – her own vocals – lifting the track. It isn’t saccharine, but it’s true.

Hounds of Love can be seen as the dividing line in Kate Bush’s discography up to today. Four proper studio albums came before, and four have come since. The seconds it takes to flip the record mark a momentous shift in Bush’s artistry. That the following four albums have been spread over three decades instead of one is a testament to the ambition she first announced on The Ninth Wave, which has much more in common with later works like Ariel than it does with the pop sensibility that marked Bush’s early career. She kicked around the idea of building a film around the work, though she eventually abandoned that project in order to move on to her next album.

These all-encompassing audio (and sometimes visual) cathedrals have kept her busy enough that she did not put on a proper live show until 2014 – where she finally performed The Ninth Wave in full for the first time as the second “act” of an elaborately staged performance somewhere between an opera and a rock concert. These shows and the control Bush had over their conception and execution would not have been possible without Hounds of Love. The album was a hit both at home and in the US. And maybe as a nod to that reality, she closed that 2014 run of shows, every night, with a single song encore: “Cloudbusting.” Thirty years after its release, the song brought the crowd to its feet – the applause sounded like rain.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Discography: MF DOOM: Czarface Meets Metal Face

These final transmissions have their place in DOOM’s discography as exuberant mask-on prod…