All-Time Albums: #7


KATE BUSH Hounds Of Love

Hounds Of Love 
Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) 5:03 (UK single, #3)
Hounds Of Love 3:03 (UK single, #18)
3 The Big Sky 4:41 (UK single, #37)
4 Mother Stands For Comfort 3:08
Cloudbusting 5:10 (UK single, #20)

The Ninth Wave 
6 A Dream Of Sheep 2:45
7 Under Ice 2:21
8 Waking The Witch 4:18
9 Watching You Without Me 4:07
10 Jig Of Life 4:04
11 Hello Earth 6:13
12 The Morning Fog 2:34

Hard to credit it now, perhaps, but when Kate Bush reappeared in August 1985 with her first new material since the commercial misfire of The Dreaming there was a mixed reaction. For some, it was oh god that mad woman with the silly voice is back….for others, the lengthy hiatus (by those days’ standards) had only heightened her mystique and the expectation surrounding what she was going to do next.

And what she did next was an album split into two sides/parts, the second of which consisted of a 7-track song suite about a woman’s fight to avoid drowning in the aftermath of some unspecified accident at sea. For a pop landscape still reeling from Live Aid a month before, this could have been a challenge too far for the public. Lest we forget another act returning from a 3-year absence at the same time – Dexys Midnight Runners – took a similar creative risk with Don’t Stand Me Down (all monologues and extended song suites) but died on their arse despite having a greater degree of credit in the chart bank after Too Rye Aye.

One of the crucial differences between the two campaigns, of course, was that Hounds of Love was trailed by a big comeback single, the imperious Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God), while Kevin Rowland was arrogant/misguided enough to not bother putting a single out to help promote his album. As a side note, it’s interesting that the idea of a mainstream artist achieving multi-platinum sales with a concept album that keeps the concept part strictly to one side of the record (and puts the potential singles material on the other) would also work for Chris Rea in 1989 with The Road To Hell. But we digress.

Given the chart peaks of The Dreaming’s three singles (#11, #48 and er, #76), Running Up That Hill’s debut inside the UK Top 10 was quite extraordinary, and a reflection on the immediacy and quality of the track (it would even crack the Billboard Top 30 a few months later). Even more remarkable is how every song on Side One covers pretty unconventional and provocative subject matter, yet because the overall style and sound is so confident and – thanks to the Fairlight – utterly contemporary for the era, it isn’t a drawback or a barrier to universal appeal. Gender swapping with her lover, imaginary shapes and creatures in cloud formations, parents with serial killer offspring, and a controversial real-life scientist arrested for his published views about sex. Top Of The Pops fodder it certainly was not.

Except that is what Hounds Of Love unquestionably became during the latter half of 1985 and through the spring of 1986, as four of the five tracks from Side One hit the charts and Kate Bush’s most mature and complete work to date found itself a staple of primetime radio and TV. Its entry at #1 on release could possibly be explained by a loyal fanbase, but the triple-platinum status and uninterrupted 18 month residency on the charts was new territory even for her.

The strength of the album’s opening half must surely have helped the digestion of The Ninth Wave, which is as brilliant and inventive as anything Kate Bush has ever recorded. It runs the gamut of emotions and psychodrama, the anything-goes concept of a drowning woman’s troubled dreams offering a chance to really branch out from the conventions of pop music without incurring ridicule (as happened with some of The Dreaming).

Hounds Of Love set her up for the second phase of her career, the beloved auteur able to be both hugely popular and respected without sacrificing her uniqueness. A greatest hits collection, still the only one of its kind in the Bush canon, fed off the album’s success and cemented her position as the kind of artist who could disappear for years, even decades, at a time and yet return with her reputation unaffected.

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s