A Vivoscene Review by Marin Nelson
Vivoscene rating 6.4
To say Kate Bush’s 50 Words For Snow might be about winter is to say that Adele’s 21 might be about a breakup. Subtlety was never Bush’s forte, but this concept album beats a dead reindeer.
Maybe Bush gave us fair warning with a title like 50 Words For Snow, but the sometimes thirteen-minute marathon songs detailing emotional distance and intemperate affairs are too much. By the time Stephen Fry literally recites 50 words for, about, or conjuring snow in the title track, you’ll probably have frostbite. Or want it, just for an excuse to go inside for some respite.
Kate Bush is one of the artists you hate to critique. Her long and iconic career has seen ingenuity and brilliance, and her albums are released so infrequently that’s she’s essentially music’s Daniel Day Lewis – method acting’s musical equivalent. 2005’s Aerial, released after a 12-year hiatus, garnered Bush several well-deserved awards, five-star reviews, and was recognized alongside such contemporary powerhouses as Arcade Fire. She’s set an unprecedented standard, especially for an artist that’s been releasing genre-pushing albums since 1978.
Opener “Snowflakes” misses the mark. The emotive piano is repeated to recall an expansive backdrop to support the spoken-word poetry, but her voice carries a forced whimsicality that’s hard to abide. Some sparse drums sporadically emerge for emphasis. Here, Bush was going for snowy surrealism, but we’re left feeling cold.
The first projected single, “Wild Man”, is at odds with the whole album, a jarring pop song thrown in the dead centre. The tone of the first three songs is undone, and 50 Words struggles to recover. Or maybe we do, after such a transparent departure.
But once the blizzard has settled, glimpses of promise on 50 Words are discernable: The jazz piano and showering cymbals suit the pace of “Misty”, and it’s difficult not to admire the effective transitions (which are needed, given the length).“Among Angels”, the closer, features hesitant and well-orchestrated piano as an intricate abutment. Her vocal timbre and finishes are especially lovely.
Kate Bush’s strengths are ever-present: starkness is captured. When she wants to achieve that deafening silence of drifting snow, she does. Emotional veracity is represented, and lyrically she’s unmatched. It’s likely that Kate Bush meant to time this album as a harbinger for Christmas. But if you’re single and prone to contemplative wine-binges on a cold night, keep 50 Words For Snow far, far away. Or use it as a coaster.
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