List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
I need to ration my coverage of female singers. As someone who listens to women almost exclusively this is something of an annoyance. Thing is on this consensus list of albums there are not a lot of women who feature within the Top 250. I have already used up both of the PJ Harvey albums and now is time for me to use up the only Kate Bush entry. The great thing about Hounds of Love being that in essence you are looking at two mini-albums with the vinyl A-side being titled Hounds of Love and the B-side being a concept album called The Ninth Wave.
The first five tracks aka Hounds of Love plays like a miniature greatest hits with ‘Running Up That Hill’ and ‘Hounds of Love’ acting as the ultimate one-two punch. I don’t care what people say about The Futureheads cover of ‘Hounds of Love’ being better than the original, you are wrong and that is all I have to say on the matter. ‘The Big Sky’ is a big song celebrating the joie de vivre that children get from things like spending all day staring at the clouds and then you get ‘Mother Stands For Comfort’ which is Kate Bush starting to toe the line a bit more between experimental and radio-friendly.
Now, whilst people will turn to the first two tracks of the album to pick a favourite I have to say that I am torn between two rather different ones. The first is ‘Cloudbusting’ which tells a story of the relationship between psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich and his son Peter. The ‘cloudbuster’ was a rather odd machine invented by Reich in order to make rain and in the rather brilliant video (featuring Bush as a young boy and Donald Sutherland as her father) they even recreate a simplified cloudbuster. The reason that this song works so well is because of both the strong undercurrent of cello that drives the melody (somewhat ferociously at times) and the bittersweet lyrics. The son begins to realize, possibly for the first time, that his father may be in the wrong about something as the government come to cart him away. The moment that she sings the lines “cloudbusting daddy” breaks you heart just a little bit since it does mark the loss of some sort of innocence.
So what is the other favourite song candidate? Well it is a bit of a cheat since it is actually a combination of two songs on the B-Side… but I’ll get to that in a second. Where Hounds of Love is a collection of radio-friendly songs with no real connection The Ninth Wave tells the story of a girl (or woman) having to survive a night after falling through the ice and her survival.
This brings me to ‘Under Ice’ and ‘Waking the Witch’ which together tell the story of the girl skating down a river only to have the ice crack beneath her, her realisation that she’s drowning and then her beginning to succumb to the darkness before being rescued (signalled by the helicopter sounds at the end). This journey is disturbing with demons putting her on trial and condemning her to hell whilst she screams for her life. It’s macabre and it is utterly riveting stuff which is nothing like she has done before or since.
The rest of The Ninth Wave features the girl coming back to life and her eventual waking up. Bush uses her Irish roots as a way to signal this fight for live and within a few tracks manages to do something that Dante took nearly a hundred cantos to do. A journey of a soul travelling (and surviving) through damnation and ascends back to Earth and gets a chance to live again. Without knowing the story behind the tracks The Ninth Wave can be an awkward listen, but some attention paid to the narrative make it incredibly engaging.
As a whole Hounds of Love is one of the most influential albums to come out of the 1980s. The ripples of both this album and The Dreaming (the preceding album which was just a whole heap of amazing experimentation) can be felt to this day since it really helped women to be more accepted as slightly darker pop artists. I know that I probably would not be as into music had this album not influenced every female artist that came afterwards; I therefore owe a lot to this album and the force behind it.