Kate Bush’s ‘Hounds of Love’ at 25
Whatever year you were born in, however old you are, pop music reached its zenith when you were 12 and 13. For me this was 1984 and 1985; a couple of years full of unforgettable and undeniable pop gems. 1985 was a seminal year for me as it was the first time I bought albums that weren’t of the Now That’s What I Call Music or Hits persuasion. The first two ‘proper’ albums I bought (on tape) were Madonna’s Like A Virgin and Kate Bush’s Hounds Of Love. Twenty five years later I’m still listening to one of these albums on a regular basis (and the other album is by Madonna…), maybe not every day but there’s rarely a month when it won’t go unlistened and a single play is always the catalyst for a more intensive and in-depth listening period.
Flying back from Melbourne last week and listening to Hounds of Love on my iPod it suddenly dawned on me that being a 1985 album it was now 25 years old. In true music nerd fashion and as an unashamed Kate Bush obsessive, I looked it up on Wikipedia when I got back and found out that it’s official 25th anniversary had been the day before, the album being released on 16 September 1985.
Although it’s best known for its hit singles, Running Up That Hill and Cloudbusting, and the accompanying videos, the reason Hounds of Love is so critically praised, so admired and why it always features so high on lists of greatest albums isn’t for the singles (with The Big Sky and the title track making up the four releases from the album) but rather for the collection of songs on the second side of the album, seven songs grouped under the title of The Ninth Wave, taken from a line in Tennyson’s The Coming of Arthur and with the poem quoted on the album cover.
Wave after wave, each mightier than the last,
Till last, a ninth one, gathering half the deep
And full of voices, slowly rose and plunged
Roaring, and all the wave was in a flame.
Twenty five years later and it’s still one of the best things I’ve ever heard, it’s a truly astonishing piece of music that never ceases to amaze me, that never bores me. Every time I listen to it I still find sounds, noises, chords, sometimes whole instruments buried within the textures that I’ve never noticed before. It’s my favourite album and after all these years of listening to it, it’s easy to say that it was the best £4.99 I’ve ever spent. It’s the perfect counter to a generation that balks at paying even $10 for an album, let alone $20 for a just-released album; $20 – a lifetime of pleasure. You shouldn’t even be able to put a price on it.
Simply, The Ninth Wave has everything. From simple piano ballads to slowed down, distorted vocals, to recording vocals, playing them backwards in order to learn how to sing the backwards sounds, recording them and then reversing the tape direction to play the vocals forwards, to Pink Floyd samples, to Irish jigs, to spoken narratives, to Georgian folk songs sung by male voice choirs, to a final flourish of classical guitarist John Williams’ acoustic guitar. And people think Pet Sounds is the pinnacle of studio recording creativity.
In 2010 Kate Bush’s influence is greater than it’s ever been, especially amongst female artists; from Florence & The Machine to Fever Ray to Joanna Newsom and everything in-between. They don’t look to the likes of Madonna, they look to Kate Bush. This is why.
… And Dream of Sheep, Under Ice, Waking The Witch
Watching You Without Me, Jig of Life
Hello Earth, The Morning Fog