Welcome to the latest edition of ‘Golden Vault’, where we delve into the annals of music to bring you a classic album. You’ll know some like the back of your hand and nothing of others. We hope to get you reacquainted with old friends and create new favourites. The album to be taken out of the Golden Vault for reappraisal this week is 'Hounds of Love' by Kate Bush.
It’s 1985. Bruce Springsteen and Madonna are topping the charts, and Live Aid is making headlines around the world. But Kate Bush has barely been heard from in three years.
After her fourth album, 1982’s ‘The Dreaming’, was faced with poor commercial success and mixed critical reception, Bush stepped back from the spotlight. There may have been fears that she was simply a flash in the pop pan that had since burned out, never to be heard from again. But in September of ‘85 she returned with a bang, delivering what would probably be her finest album – ‘Hounds of Love’. The wait, is seems, was worth it.
Any album that starts with Running Up That Hill certainly can’t be ignored. It’s a pop masterpiece that packs a punch, while dealing with ideas of gender equality and a search for understanding between the sexes. Desperate and pleading, Bush asks: “Is there so much hate for the ones we love, tell me we both matter, don’t we?” With something so painful and beautiful, set against a powerful synth soundtrack, it provides a hint at what’s to come.
Bush’s vocals have always been the most remarkable element of her music – the magic glue holding the mystical compositions together. And the same can be said throughout ‘Hounds of Love’, but with a slight difference. Largely gone are the cloud-hitting high notes and rollercoaster lines of Wuthering Heights and Babooshka, replaced instead with a more mature, fuller sound that is still wondrously ethereal and instantly recognisable, but deeper, darker and more interesting.
It’s a voice that commands on title track Hounds of Love, reaching from deep inside amid swirling panic and tension, while it shines above the joyous cacophony of The Big Sky. On Cloudbusting, perhaps one of Bush’s best songs ever, her marching battle cries are fused with flowing, poignant optimism. “I just know that something good is gonna happen,” she croons at the crescendo, as melancholy mixes with anticipation.
But this is an album of two halves – or two sides, as it were back in the day. While side one is packed to the brim with hit after hit, including tracks that would go down as some of Bush’s greatest, side two tells a completely different story altogether. Flip over the vinyl and you’ll suddenly be faced with ‘The Ninth Wave’ – a mesmerising, meandering song cycle filled with stories of women and water and witches. At times brilliant, at times bizarre, but always very Bush.
From the dark tension of Under Ice to the strange, thrilling drama of Waking the Witch, there’s an eclectic mix of experimental ideas at play here. With musique concrète sampling and manipulation, in particular, it’s almost reminiscent of late 1960s Beatles. Add in the fact that it is half-toying with becoming a concept album, and ‘Hounds of Love’ could be described as a sumptuous synth-folk ‘Sgt Pepper’.
Bush – just like the Beatles at a similar point in their careers two decades earlier – was no longer concerned about shows and touring, meaning that focus could be placed firmly on an album created in a studio, without worrying about how the aural intricacy could replicated in a live performance. Indeed, much of ‘Hounds of Love’ was crafted in a studio in Bush’s back garden, giving her time and space to play. Some work was also done in Dublin, with Irish music heavyweights such as Donal Lunny, John Sheahan and Liam O'Flynn, which explains the slightly manic, Irish trad-inflected Jig of Life.
If the two sides of ‘Hounds of Love’ seem confusingly disparate, they are eventually tied together by the phenomenal penultimate track Hello Earth. Here, Bush blends the musical power of some of side one’s great tracks – almost cinematic in tone and texture as it envelops the listener in this sonic world – with the strange storytelling and compositional creativity that firmly places it within the narrative of side two. It’s a surging, dramatic, six-minute mini opera – and even finds a way to make the uileann pipes not sound painfully out of place.
The drama is wrapped neatly in a bow with the last track, the relatively gentle and uplifting The Morning Fog, a parting gift to the listener who has made it through the whirlwind ride of ‘Hounds of Love’. The album received strong critical and public reception at the time, with NME saying: “Our Kate’s a genius, the rarest solo artist this country’s ever produced.”
This has not waned over time and the music has aged incredibly well. Its influence is clear on everyone from Björk to St Vincent, to the point where nearly any female artist that dares to do something interesting with their music will inevitably be described at Kate Bush-eqsue. It’s certainly not a bad legacy to have. However, with something so sophisticated and bold, and still fully formed in her own wild vision, ‘Hounds of Love’ created something that was difficult for others – and even Bush herself – to surpass.