On This Day is a new regular series dedicated to great moments in music history.
September 16th, 1985: Kate Bush released her fifth studio album ‘Hounds Of Love’
In August 1985, NME featured Kate in a ‘Where Are They Now?’ piece. It was indicative of the place she was at in popular consciousness. The golden girl of English pop had disappeared after 1982’s ‘The Dreaming’, a demanding slab of sonic experimentation which peered bravely into the avant-garde and lyrically took up such non-Top 40 topics like The Shining, Vietnam and the plight of the Aboriginal community in Australia.
Revisionist history has rightly placed it at the top of Bush’s artistic tree but, at the time, it was met with low sales and shrugs of incomprehension. Years later she would summarise popular opinion thus: “‘The Dreaming’ was my “she’s gone mad” album, my “she’s not commercial any more” album.”
Bush subsequently left an increasingly hostile and demanding London to record the follow up and fell off the pop music map she’d been navigating since 1978. The singer went back to her family home in rural Kent and went about building her own home studio behind her family barn. While we wondered what had happened to her, she found that working at her own space in a relaxed environment worked wonders for her creativity. The self-financed, self-produced process suited her down to her ground. She was ready to make her masterpiece.
‘Hounds Of Love’ can be broadly split into two sections. The first half was top heavy with propulsive pop tracks (‘Running Up That Hill (Deal With God)’, ‘Cloudbusting’, ‘Mother Stands For Comfort’) which had in common a bold use of the Fairlight drum sampler and a lyrical bent which found Bush dissecting physical and family relationships with a new directness.
Whilst that run of songs were some of Bush’s strongest to date, it was the conceptual second side (‘The Ninth Wave’) which saw her brilliantly meshing together her most high art, avant-garde tendencies with her unique pop sensibilities.
The songs were strung together over the loose narrative of a girl drowning at sea. As Bush tells it: “The idea is that they’ve been on a ship and they’ve been washed over the side so they’re alone in this water. And I find that horrific imagery, the thought of being completely alone in all this water.
“And they’ve got a life jacket with a little light so that if anyone should be traveling at night they’ll see the light and know they’re there. And they’re absolutely terrified, and they’re completely alone at the mercy of their imagination, which again I personally find such a terrifying thing, the power of one’s own imagination being let loose on something like that.”
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Tracks like ‘Under Ice’ and ‘Waking The Witch’ were truly horrifying, Gothic soundscapes which greedily bubbled with disturbed voices, desperate noises and inescapable violence. They battled with the good forces in songs like ‘Jig Of Life’ or the out-of-body, lonely grief of ‘Watching You Without Me’. The depth of what was on play here was like observing the depth of oil colours on a beautiful painting or uncovering the deeper meanings at play in a devilishly clever cinematic masterpiece.
Yes it was definitely “high art”, but it was entirely graspable in its pitch of human emotions and depth of feeling.
Bush would go on to make more brilliant music, but she would never top this wondrous marriage of conceptual ingenuity and pop nous.