- by Kevin Orton Rating:10 Release Date:1985-09-16 Label: EMI
I confess I got into this album because of a crush I had on a certain girl back in the 80’s. Same story with the Cure. Crushes, what a fantastic way to get turned on to music. Can’t recommend it enough.
While I always thought Kate Bush was trying a little too hard to be the weird girl answer to Stevie Nicks, when it comes to her singing voice, I’m a moth to a flame. And behind the artifice, her songs have always had real substance.
Being a big Bowie fan, I can appreciate the approach. Despite all the theatrics, Bush is the real deal in the singer-songwriter department. And while the 80’s production hasn’t necessarily aged well in places Hounds of Love remains the quintessential Kate Bush album.
‘Running Up That Hill’ harks back to Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’. Coming at you like a hoard of Vikings. But lyrically, it’s all about compassion. “If I could make a deal with God, and I’d get him to swap our places.” Its noble sentiment, despite having her hands tied by unseen forces. “If I only could, I’d be running up that hill.”
As for the title track, Love is a Dog from Hell. “The hounds of love are hunting me,” Bush laments. “I’ve always been a coward and I don’t know what’s good for me.” Fear of love soon gives way to the ‘Big Sky’. Another song whose theme is acceptance of things beyond one's control. Clouds change up above while below, Bush is throwing a faerie masquerade ball to revel in.
The clouds darken with the eerie, ‘Mother Stands For Comfort’. “Mother will hide the murderer. Mother will hide the madman.” Lyrics that don’t exactly bring comfort to mind as Norman Bates’ materfamilias. Production-wise, 80’s studio gimmickry meets traditional Folk instrumentation. While both elements should clash, the end result is an unsettling harmony.
The haunting Celtic march of ‘Cloudbusting’ continues in this vein. Fiddles saw away while Bush’s voice soars to the heavens tossing out bon mots like, “Every time it rains, you’re here in my head.” It’s a great single and a tune that beautifully encapsulates the unique sound Bush manages to capture on this album.
‘And Dream of Sheep’ is one of Bush’s most evocative and affecting ballads. A lilting piano takes center stage and her voice, a melancholy lullaby. “I can’t be left to my imagination, let me be weak and dream of sheep.” It’s an album highlight, among many highlights.
‘Under Ice’ delves into more experimental territory. Studio wizardry and sawing violins with Bush chanting out her lyrics like a possessed oracle dreaming of her death by drowning under the ice. ‘Waking The Witch’ goes even further with less winning results. It’s the most dated track on the album. A disorienting collage of heavily treated vocals and sampled dialogue. The demonic vocal effects bringing this number into cheesy 80’s Fantasy movie soundtrack territory. If you’re seeing flashbacks of Legend, Labyrinth and Never Ending Story, you’re not alone. That said, it’s also Hounds’ big Pink Floyd The Wall moment.
The atmospherics pay off more on ‘Watching You Without Me’. Where echoes of African Folk meet the Celtic Faerie circle. There’s a real 80’s Peter Gabriel sound to this one. A haunting diversion that plays well to Bush’s strengths. Her voice bizarrely breaking into robotic, staccato static at the end.
With more sawing fiddles, ‘Jig of Life’ dives headfirst into the Celtic Faerie Circle. Bush relishing in the role of spooky sorceress/seductress. Musically, at times it sounds as if the Pogues just crashed the party. The only distraction is a spoken word entry by her brother, John Carder Bush. While not a bad bit of verse, the move comes off a bit corny. Another moment that hasn't aged well since Hounds' initial release.
‘Hello Earth’ once again finds Bush in her element. A stunning ballad and the album’s centerpiece. With some very 80’s production flourishes that might have you raising your lighter or boombox into the air. ‘Morning Fog’ also suffers from some very dated 80’s production but is nevertheless a beguiling farewell.
Of course, these days every reissue comes with bonus tracks. While an obvious marketing ploy, the additions here, in fact, enhance rather than dilute. ‘Be Kind To My Mistakes’ and ‘Burning Bridge’ are driving numbers that really get their 80’s on. Slick guitars and tinny drums mixed into the center of the track and cranked to 11. While I personally hate this sound, the songs are strong and they set the scene beautifully for the lonesome gem, ‘Under The Ivy’. Even more semi-precious is the haunting acapella, ‘My Lagan Love’.
Without a doubt, Hounds of Love is a concept album. One about finding one’s self amidst the smoke and mirrors self-deception. Despite some very 80's moments, it’s a work that manages to transcend its dated production values. Ultimately, Bush’s voice, compassion and spirit can’t help but grab you like a siren and pull you into her embrace