“Do You Want to Hear About the Deal That I’m Making?”
IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images/PHOTO CREDIT/CONCEPT: John Carder Bush
Old Dogs, New Kicks: Hounds of Love at Thirty-Three
MY self-imposed Kate Bush embargo…
PHOTO CREDIT: John Carder Bush
has already failed after a couple of days but, until November, I think there will be a gap! I was writing about her a few days back, when marking Never for Ever’s thirty-eight birthday, that she tends to release her albums in September and November. In November, 50 Words for Snow (2011), Aerial (2005); The Red Shoes (1993) and Lionheart (1978) have anniversaries and, just yesterday, The Dreaming turned thirty-six. Maybe it is something about the autumn/winter that gives warmth and extra relevance to the albums’ sounds? I am not sure but, on Sunday, we mark thirty-three years since Hounds of Love arrived. To many, myself included, Kate Bush’s fifth studio album is her at the most engaging, brave and free. I will talk about the album’s gestation and qualities soon but, to many, in 1985 we saw the legendary singer-songwriter free of shackles and finally creating how she always wanted. Certainty, struggles with record label control – she was with EMI until 2011 but always wanted to produce her own material without impositions – and creative difficulties blighted some of her work pre-Hounds of Love. Kate Bush began producing solo since The Dreaming (the album prior to Hounds of Love) and suffered nervous exhaustion off of the back of it. Her perfectionist tendencies and experimentation meant she would spend hours in the studio crafting songs and pushing boundaries. Strange instrumentations and effects would come in; she was at her angriest and least conventional when making that album.
IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images
It is no surprise, given she wrote and produced everything herself, there would be strains and fatigue. She was undergoing a bit of a creative change from a relatively (by her standards) composed and commercial artist to someone who was going in a different direction. The Dreaming saw rawer vocals come in and a dark, more intense set of compositions come out. The compositions, in fact, marked her most assured and ambitious so far. Many critics did not know what to make of the album and some felt she had gone completely overboard! It is not a conventional record and, because of that, hairs were raised and eyebrows aloft! Contemporary reviews have been kinder and more praise-worthy - and many consider The Dreaming as the best Kate Bush achievement. Bush, based in London and shuttling between studios at that time, moved into the country and evaded a city she felt was exhausting and taking its toll. She wanted the freedom of nature and a space where she could breathe and create something less suffocated. Poor albums sales (of The Dreaming) and the long time it took to record and release the album meant Bush was determined to take time off and, when the next record was brewing, do things in a different way. In fact, three years is not that long a gap between records – so many of today’s big acts take much longer than that to release material!
PHOTO CREDIT: John Carder Bush
Bush spent a summer out with her boyfriend, family and friends and was being herself. It was one of the first times since she arrived onto the scene, aged nineteen, she could escape the pressure and constant need for material and interviews. That breather and distance did wonders and she was able to soak in the calm of the surroundings and revise her plans. Rather than create an album that sounded like her last; she build a forty-eight-track studio in a barn – as you do! – and, behind the family home, it meant she could work at her own rate and be in a safe spot. As opposed the years in London working in studios and being pulled here and there; Hounds of Love would start life in a much different and positive environment. As this was her first time autonomous and independent – as a sole producer and making music in her own studio – the recording process altered. She would record demos and enhanced them when in the studio. The Fairlight CMI – which she brought in to Never for Ever and used ever since –, chorused vocals and Irish instrumentation (Jig of Life) meant she was not going to produce a simple and calmer record. If The Dreaming was an edgy and slightly angry album: Hounds of Love is pure ambition and awakening.
Early albums like The Kick Inside (her debut in 1978) put off some critics because of the high-pitched vocals and flightiness. Hounds of Love sees a deeper-voiced Bush swoon and swallow and, whilst hardly tame and calm, she was, perhaps, more accessible and digestible than she was back in 1978. Bush would go to create a two-side album with Aerial (a conventional first-half and experimental, suite-like second) and that all started with Hounds of Love! The record’s top part is full of singles and more conventional songs. The second-half, The Ninth Wave, is the concept of a woman being stranded at sea and in need of rescue. From the paen to sleep and relief (And Dream of Sheep) to the scuttling and twisted notes of Waking the Witch – a stunning vision and spectacular blend of styles! You follow the story and – although the woman is rescued in the end, according to Bush… – you feel the terror and uncertainty of the open ocean; the night coming in and the relief of being alive when the morning fog comes up. On paper, it sounds tricky to execute and realise but that, perhaps, is the first sign Kate Bush was unhindered and in an organic, inspiring space. Unafraid to go beyond the expected and try something new; The Ninth Wave is considered one of her finest achievements. She talked about recording the songs in a film-style series and bringing them to life in a different way. Although she achieved that, to a degree, in her 2014 live show(s), Before the Dawn; I wonder whether we will see a mini-film that unites those seven songs?
Maybe that will come but there is, for sure, that distinct split between the former and latter halves. The second is imagined and this single story. The opening portion of the record is, if anything, more personal and love-based. You get a nice shift in styles and tones - and the fact it all hangs together seamlessly and naturally is testament to Kate Bush’s instincts and talents. It is strange recollecting some of the stories from the recording. She has said, in a couple of interviews, how she was writing Cloudbusting and a wasp flew in the window and headed straight for her. In the middle of writing a line, she changed it so that it said “Ooh…I just know that something GOOD is going to happen!”. The initial pitch was more negative but, when presented with a kamikaze wasp, reverted to something positive and hopeful – who knows what legacy that song would have were it not for that random incident! The Big Sky, the fourth single from the album, was a tricky process that saw the song go through changes and re-writes. Written about the child-like sensation of watching the sky and gazing in wonder; it was a hard thing to piece together and I am not surprised! It is one of the most propulsive and impressive songs on the album and boasts incredible depth and variety.
With its big drums, shrieked vocals (at the end) and wonderful chorus; Bush worked at the song and, eventually, it came together. If some associate Hounds of Love with that suite and incredible drama; most highlight three particular songs as works of genius. Hounds of Love and Cloudbusting are often voted among the best Kate Bush songs ever and, with equally potent and imaginative videos, here was an artist stepping into her own league and becoming more immersed and involved with film. The songs themselves are hugely confident, accomplished and immersive experiences where Bush confesses to cowardice and seeing a fox ravaged by dogs (Hounds of Love – possibly a metaphor for heartbreak) and a fantastical weather device that can bring rain (Cloudbusting - about the very close relationship between psychologist and philosopher Wilhelm Reich and his young son, Peter, told from the point of view of the mature Peter. It describes the boy's memories of his life with Reich on their family farm, called Orgonon where the two spent time ‘cloudbusting’.). Cloudbusting’s video, too, sees a certain Donald Sutherland appear as Kate Bush’s dad! Utah Saints sampled the mentioned wasp-inspired line from Cloudbusting for their song, Something Good (1992), and the lyrics look at safety and danger; a child realising adults are fallible and you get that dreamy and extraordinary set of imaginative images. Hounds of Love sees Bush chased by dogs and you get a real urgency and tension – as opposed to the lighter and positive Cloudbusting (The Futureheads also covered Hounds of Love). Although both songs only just cracked the top-twenty; they are seen as among her best efforts and show what a leap she made after the tension and struggle of putting The Dreaming together.
We all love The Kick Inside but that album is associated with the one song: the record-breaking masterpiece Wuthering Heights. In many ways, there is that one song we associate with Hounds of Love: the epic and unforgettable Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God). A painful, honest and heartbreaking song; it asks what would happen if men and women could swap places and walk in each other’s shows. I believe the song was going to be called A Deal with God originally but there were fears around blasphemy and offending (in the same way God Only Knows by The Beach Boys caused some concern when it was released in the 1960s). Released on 5th August, 1985; it was the most-successful release from Kate Bush of the 1980s and peaked in the charts at number-three. Many nations would not play the song because it had the word ‘God’ in it and there was misinterpretation regarding the origins and story too. Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God) is about brokering a deal and seeing what it would like to switch roles; how we’d have a better understanding of each other if we could spend some time in a different form. Rather than represent a specific personal crisis – as many leapt to at the time – it is Bush asking that big question.
IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush in a promotional shot for The Ninth Wave/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Rex
The twelve-track album is seen by most critics and fans as her best – although I will always pine for The Kick Inside – and, in 1985, so many of the U.K. reviews were five-star praise-pieces. The terror of The Dreaming was transmogrified into an anxiety about love and its unpredictablness. Critics noted how Bush had stepped away and rebelled against the label’s control and was fed up with the demands, machine and working in different studios. Inspiring to other artists then and now who feel constrained and cowed by record labels and commercial expectations; Hounds of Love is inspiring in so many ways. It heralded a new career phase that would find Bush asserting more personal control and, rather unsurprisingly, led to another remarkable album – 1989’s The Sensual World often comes very close to Hounds of Love when we look at her very finest L.P. Although the U.S. market did not really ‘get’ Hounds of Love – Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God) fared well but the album left many critics confused – she was a huge hit here and it seemed, seven years after her debut album, she had reached a sort of triumphant peak! A personal awakening and spiritual emancipation meant the Kate Bush who was frayed and criticised in 1982 was a critical and commercial darling in 1985. Whilst I argue The Kick Inside is my favourite album of hers; I acknowledge Hounds of Love is superior when it comes to sonic innovation, overall quality and its impact…
Pitchfork, in a review published on 12th June, 2016, seemed to hone in on the album’s impact and influence today:
“Hounds of Love proved there were no compositional mountains Bush couldn’t climb. While the second side asserted her vanguard bent, the first side yielded four UK Top 40 hits. Neither synth-pop nor prog-rock, Hounds of Love nevertheless drew from both with double-platinum rewards on her home turf, and yielded her first U.S. hits, even without a tour. And its idiosyncrasies have only fueled Hounds’ lingering influence: Florence and the Machine cribs its Gothic angst. Anohni mirrors its animal divinity. St. Vincent draws from its sexual politics and sonic precision. Utah Saints sampled it and the Futureheads covered it, both with UK Top 10 results. Coldplay’s “Speed of Sound” goes so far as to paraphrase “Running”’s rhythm, chords, climax, and highland imagery. It’s the Sgt. Pepper of the digital age’s dawn; a milestone in penetratingly fanciful pop”.
Another fan, writing last year, raised some interesting points:
“Channeling other characters is what Bush has done since the beginning of her career with Wuthering Heights (1978), a song that precociously fuses eroticism with a voice from beyond the grave. In Hounds of Love, Bush’s extraordinary vocal performances are the musical equivalent of speaking in tongues. It might not be a perfect album, but there are few more thrilling, literate, and ambitious works of popular music. It is hard not to be spellbound by it”.
IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush relaxing in New York in 1985/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Rex
Hounds of Love not only showed what a female artist could achieve but what was possible for a Pop musician. It is a unique work that shows no flaws, rough edges of any of the anxious moments that made their way into her albums prior to that. Free of the pressure from record labels and studios and in a new setting; Hounds of Love is Kate Bush alive, refreshed and renewed. It may seem strange I mark the album’s thirty-third anniversary but I feel, like all of her great albums, it needs to be marked every year and the music passed to fresh ears. Given the fact there are new movements and plans from Bush (her lyrics will be presented in a book in December); it is a great time to look at her albums and revisit some truly wonderful moments. Kate Bush, as this article documents, is rather pleased with Hounds of Love:
“…As for Bush herself, she remains fiercely proud of Hounds Of Love and has only good memories of making it.“At the time, it was such a lot of work,” she concedes. “The lyrics and trying to piece the whole thing together. But I did love it, and everyone who worked on the album was wonderful. In some ways, it was the happiest I’ve ever been when writing and making an album.
“…I know there’s a theory that goes around that you must suffer for your art – you know, all that stuff about, ‘It’s not real art unless you suffer.’ But I don’t believe this at all because I think, in some ways, this was the most complete work that I’ve done; in some ways, it’s the best and I was the happiest that I’d been, compared to making other albums”.
I will play the album in its entirety on Sunday and I hope fans of her work, and those new, re-explore the brilliant two sides to Hounds of Love. Whether you dive into the dangerous and lonely waters of The Ninth Wave or let the physical beauty of Cloudbusting and The Big Sky do their work; there is no denying how nuanced, powerful and inspiring the album is. There is no telling when a new Kate Bush album will be released but I am sure something is taking shape as we speak. Perhaps she has not hit those peaks since 1985 – although 2005’s Aerial is seen as one of her best albums – but I wonder whether she would have recorded many more albums were she to remain in London and work the same way she did prior to Hounds of Love. That period is so much more than the music itself and how well it did in the charts. It is the celebrated and in-demand artist taking a leap and getting away from aspects that were causing stress and too much pressure – a lesson to all of us in any situation. After The Dreaming came out; something needed to change and Bush needed space and time. By moving to the country and building her own studio, she gained that freedom and calm environment and, with new energy and wide eyes, Kate Bush went on to create one of the finest albums…
IN THIS PHOTO: An outtake from the Hounds of Love shoot/PHOTO CREDIT: John Carder Bush
THE world of music has ever seen.