Still a precocious, coddled child at twenty-seven, Kate Bush loses herself in daydreams and then turns them into songs. This can take some time: Hounds of Love is her first LP in three years, and the textural detail suggests she was working the whole time. Since the album was planned as part of a video project, Bush's wide-screen composing and producing style and the vivid instrumental support make her Carrollian carols seem like a movie soundtrack that challenges you to provide the missing scenes.
God)" has become her first Top Forty single in the U.S. (in the U.K., Kate rules as Madonna does here), but it's not more melodic than some of the other songs ("And Dream of Sheep" could be a huge, if bizarre, hit for Barry Manilow), just less complex. Making full use of her four-octave soprano and brother Paddy's ethnomusicological abilities (he plays dijeridu, balalaika and fujare on the LP), the Mistress of Mysticism has woven another album that both dazzles and bores.
Like the Beatles on their later albums, Bush is not concerned about having to perform the music live, and her orchestrations swell to the limits of technology. But unlike the Beatles, Bush often overdecorates her songs with exotica. There are sound effects, spoken passages and her own Fairlight squonks fluidly choreographed with a web of bodhran, bouzouki, fiddles, whistles, uillean pipes, choirs and string sections. There are also electronic mutations of guitar, bass and drums that are matched only by Brian Eno's rock productions.
Bush's sound collages make appropriate settings for her themes of transcendence: in "Under Ice," she seems like a panicked fish; "The Big Sky" and "Hello Earth" find her walking on the moon; and in "Watching You without Me," she's an eavesdropping ghost able to sing Middle Eastern drones. Her most unsettling out-of-body experience is "Waking the Witch," a nightmarish political parable of how the devil sometimes hides in God's clothing. But Hounds of Love requires a lyric sheet and a footnote appendix the B side is a twenty-five-minute fantasy suite inspired by Celtic mythology, and the Oedipal puns of "Cloudbursting" (and maybe "Mother Stands for Comfort") refer to the writings of Wilhelm Reich's son Peter.
There's no arguing that Bush is extraordinarily talented, but as with Jonathan Richman, rock's other eternal kid, her vision will seem silly to those who believe children should be seen and not heard. (RS 467)