Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The Hounds of Love

1985 was a coming of age musically for the 80s. From Meat is Murder to Tom Waits’ phenomenal Raindogs to The Waterboys and Prefab Sprout, 1985 outshines any other year in the decade thus far. 

Comparisons to Peter Gabriel's third eponymous LP were inevitable. Kate Bush, like friend and sometime collaborator Gabriel, seemed intent on stretching the song form to its limit, cramming full the aural spectrum with shading and drama, while replacing "moon-June-spoon" lyrics with intricately structured, beautifully calibrated narratives.  Yet Kate displayed a far more feminine sensibility (duh), and thus her compositions were warmer, fuller, more deeply personal. Hounds of Love was her masterpiece, coming on the heels of the wildly adventurous The Dreaming, and years before the more "sexual" – and less interesting – Sensual World (despite that incredible take on Molly Bloom's orgasm in Ulysses). The first half of the album is astonishing to this day, revealing Bush's mastery of both her songcraft and of the cutting-edge electronics at her disposal in 1984. Capable of conveying complex sentiment in an intricately structured framework, Kate posited herself as the natural successor to Joni (Hejira days) and Rickie Lee Jones, albeit with a decidedly British bent.

The album's B side, "The Ninth Wave" is a staggering contemplation of the afterlife, incorporating such divergent elements as Celtic bagpipes, ambient sound effects, multi-tracked voice-overs, witches and Tibetan chanting to form a cohesive, compelling whole. Richly symbolic and utterly convincing, this section is indeed art-rock in the best sense of the term: experimental, audacious, and grippingly original.  From the opening segments of "And Dream of Sheep" to the emotionally crushing "Hello Earth," if you are not in tears upon listening, your heart has been ripped away.  With the line, "All you fisherman," the rest of us are emotionally drained.  Flaubert's dying words were, "Close the window, it's too beautiful." That somehow fits here. 

“It’s in the trees! It’s coming!”

Made entirely at her own 48-track home studio and delivered whole to EMI as a finished work, Hounds of Love's most striking element is vividly apparent: that spirit of experimentation at every turn.  The 80s were far from the artless decade that critics imply – Peter Seville, The Cure, David Salle, New Order, Gilbert and George, and this; enough to carry us through that snoozefest called the 90s. A career rife with superb albums, Kate has never before or after matched Hounds of Love for sheer mastery of form or sense of purpose.