Stan Deely on Hounds of Love
HOUNDS OF LOVE
It feels a bit pointless to review this as album as I am sure most of you already know and love it. However I hope my virgin ears can bring a different perspective or at least some interesting debate.
Firstly, apologies again for lateness of posting. The renewed popularity of Ms Bush at my local second hand record shop made it difficult to source a cheap CD locally so initial listening was on Youtube and then the internet went down at home for a couple of weeks. I resorted to listening to it on my nightshifts at work and now I have a disciplinary against me for abusing the policy on personal internet use at work. I didn’t even know such a policy existed. Talk about suffering for my art.
Eventually a 1997 re-issue CD with extra tracks, lyrics and sleeve notes was sourced and I was able to give the album some proper attention.
MY HISTORY WITH THIS ALBUM – ALMOST NON EXISTENT
Of course I’ve heard the singles and am aware of this albums reputation but it was only after the 2014 ‘Before the Dawn’ live shows that I became aware of ‘The Ninth Wave’ phenomenon and thought the album might be worth investigating.
A few more years passed before I secured myself a copy for £1 from a chazza sometime in mid 2018. I’m not sure I even got around to listening to it before I moved house at the end of that year and it was one of a handful of CD’s that I donated back to the local charity shop. I thought I could go without it as I hadn’t built a relationship with it yet. I’m still kicking myself for getting rid of this one and also the first Le Tigre album. Moving does strange things to a man.
Anyway my new version has the extra tracks and liner notes by Peter Fitzgerald Morris, editor of the Kate Bush fanzine Homeground, which start off incisive and perceptive, get increasingly irrelevant and finish on a truly bizarre sentence. Anyway enough of my yakking. Let’s get on with the show.
SIDE ONE – HOUNDS OF LOVE
RUNNING UP THAT HILL
I’m not even going to attempt to describe or review this. Just to say that when it came out I wasn’t particularly bothered about Kate Bush but I loved this song which I thought rivalled Dusty Springfield in the pantheon of the sexiest songs of all time.
Sleeve notes tell me that that in late 1986 NME acclaimed this as the best single recorded by any British non-black artist ever. This bizarre comment makes me wonder which British black artist did they think bettered this – Billy Ocean? Sade? Derek B?
Judging by its recent resurrection and Chart Number 1 status it looks like the masses and younger generations are in agreement on this one.
Alas I have just discovered that the deal with God is for women and men to swap their places and that Kate isn’t, as I have thought for the last thirty eight years asking to swap places with God. I must admit I am slightly disappointed and this makes the whole concept of the song a little less awesome.
HOUNDS OF LOVE
Believe it or not I totally missed out on this tune when it was released and charting and first came across this song from the Futureheads pretty annoying cover version.
Kate’s version is thankfully slower and less quirky and consequently superior. Describing the fear and excitement of committing oneself to a new relationship it has a breathless declamatory urgent vocal that totally suits the subject matter. Her singing, which I found at times a bit shrill on earlier albums, totally hits the mark here. The drum sound is just on the right side of the 80’s gated reverb sound. Lots of savage sawing violin strokes. Catchy as fuck. Pretty short at under three minutes which leaves one wanting more
THE BIG SKY
Straight into another belter. Kate at her most funky with a bass riff that sounds like Lemmy playing a Chic Song. I’ve just discovered that its actually Youth from Killing Joke, the king of the punk funk bassline, so I wasn’t too far off. It’s got a swirling, repetitive, tribal rhythm and just builds and builds with lots of multitracked Kates on vocal, some of which are really going for it. Great drumming as well.
The video features Kate wigging out alongside her at the time beau, the moustachioed Del Palmer who manages some impressive dance moves whilst holding a bass, and a cast of thousands in what is almost a homage to a kind of 60’s Lulu type thing.
MOTHER STANDS FOR COMFORT
The only track on side one not released as a single and a marked contrast to the three previous tunes. A minimal mood piece consisting of Kate and keyboard, fretless bass and various Fairlight sounds used as percussion. At first seems weak and pallid in comparison to its neighbours but is another grower and a nice contrast. Sounds especially good on headphones. This one explores love from another angle. A mother’s love covering up for a murderous son. Another one of Kate’s dark fairytales.
You may recall the video starring Donald Sutherland filmed in the beautiful Oxfordshire countryside. At the time of its release it was heavily featured on MTV UK which I used to watch at parents house. (They weren’t subscribers. It was just available for free along with the terrestrial channels in their region) Funnily enough one of the VJ’s was an annoying character called Steve Blacknell, who apparently was an early boyfriend of Kate’s and who claims that the Man with the Child in His Eyes was written about him. If it’s true that Kate wrote the song age 13 I wouldn’t be boasting about this too much if I was he. Anyway I digress.
Owing to its ubiquity on said channel this callow youth found it a bit of a turn off, thinking the song bit stodgy and repetitive. Now I get it and now think of it as superior Kate and when the chorus kicks in it achieves premier league Kate Bush.
Another insistent repetitive driving song but slowed down and toned down from the earlier belters. A bit more reflective. Nice interplay between the strings. Towards the end it lifts again with a chorus of voices. First Kate multitracked and then a Cossack style male voice choir. Falls apart a bit at the end
Well that’s pretty much as good a single side of an album as exists in rock. Up there in the stratosphere with Moondance side one and not much else.
SIDE TWO – THE NINTH WAVE
This is like The Dreaming part 2 – she takes all the new directions, general craziness, multitracked voices and Irish influence and sculpts it into a 26 minute seven part song suite about a drowning woman.
It starts with the stripped down, tender ballad of AND DREAM OF SHEEP with just Kate and her piano, moves into the sawing strings and musical theatre of UNDER ICE and gets weirder with the prog rock Spaghetti Western mood piece WAKING THE WITCH depicting the confusion and overwhelm of the drowning protagonist
The melancholic keyboard refrain and fretless bass of WATCHING YOU WITHOUT ME, which sounds to me like an influence on the work of Peter Gabriel and Radiohead, has Kate singing in a pure unadorned style that I find very moving. Then we have a switchback into the more frenetic trad Irish JIG OF LIFE before Kate attempts to break our hearts with HELLO EARTH. This starts as a yearning lost girl piano ballad. A love song to the planet the drowning person is losing it starts with a very moving vocal from Kate then turns into a bit of a prog rock kitchen sink multipart classic seemingly employing all lots of elements previously employed on the album notably uilean pipes and then moves through various choral styles – Gregorian and hymnal ending on an orchestral sweep and . Pretty effective but possibly trying a bit too hard.
And finally, the lighter and bouncier THE MORNING FOG. A slighter song but in some ways even more moving. Lovely vocals, great bass on the headphones. Affecting lyrics. A goodbye to all her loved ones. Is the person dead, possibly born again or rescued? Open to interpretation. Benefits from being short and not overstated. Funeral song quality.
For me, at this point the Ninth Wave is pretty impressive but I am not totally convinced by the whole piece. It seems to me to suffer from the Dreaming syndrome of excessive all over the place-ness and with its multiplicity of style means I find some of the contrasts songs to song a bit jarring. I therefore think that for me personally I would prefer to have the tracks individually so I can chop and choose how to listen to them rather than have to listen to the whole as one piece as is on some formats however you dear reader may differ. Do you think the Ninth Wave work best as a suite listened to continuously as it is on some formats or is it okay or even better broken up. You all know the album much better than me so let me know what you think.
I’m also intrigued to hear how the Ninth Wave sounded live in 2014 without the 80s production so intend to give that a listen. It’s a bit soon at the moment as I’m still digesting the whole thing so maybe I will be reviewing the live albums at the end of my stint this year,
RANDOM MUSINGS ON THIS ALBUM
I was impressed but a bit undecided by The Dreaming finding some of the new directions and some of her vocals a bit much. Hounds of Love more than delivers on the direction she started then. I think its generally regarded as her classic and I’ll sign up for that.
The last two albums have changed my impression of Kate’s genre. At the time I considered her as someone who was someone who was essentially a melodic piano led pop ballad songstress – a more kooky female Elton John for instance. What I hadn’t noticed were the driving repetitive rhythms starting to become prevalent in her work during this period and how well it combines with her vocals to really embed these tunes in the psyche
It’s a weird thing. Immersing oneself in an album for one month. With a lot of the Bowie albums it was more than enough and I haven’t wished to revisit them. With Kate, especially the last two, I wasn’t too sure at first, but they just seem to grow and grow on me and I’m feeling that I am just starting to unearth the treasures contained within. Following from this I have new respect for any music critics who can nail album reviews in a short time or with just a few listens.
So tell me what have I missed? What else should I be impressed by. Any dissenting views? Over to you dear readers.