The concept album is not dead. Split an hour of music into seven songs of not less than six and a half minutes, all of which are completely unplayable on the radio, theme them around winter, snow, ice, legends and fairy tales, release it on the Winter Solstice and believe it’s 1979 all over again.
To describe it as slow is an understatement. There’s perhaps one mid-tempo track, the rest a melting, thawing mush of long, dark piano notes and muffled percussion. Bush’s unmistakeable vocals appear to have lost none of their swooping, soaring range in her trademark breathy delivery.
There’s an impressive line-up of guest vocalists; Albert McIntosh, classical singers Stefan Roberts and Michael Wood, Andy Fairweather Low, Elton John on blistering form at his restrained best (and I’m no fan at all of the John); Bush’s son Bertie’s brings the Aled Jones choirboy purity, but poor old Stephen Fry gets to intone increasingly daft winter-related phrases on the title track, like some nine-minute round of ‘General Ignorance’ from his quiz-show QI. Which, any fan will tell you, busted the myth that the Inuit language has 50 words for snow. It doesn’t.
Fortunately, Bush herself has confessed to the daft, whimsical side of her song-writing, at its height with Fry on 50 Words for Snow. Just as well, otherwise the mysticism and folk-spirituality all over this would seem pompous as well as ludicrous; “I was born in a cloud”, “I am sky!”
If you can take the high-concept musical meanderings of tracks that last between seven and thirteen minutes, your way-points are the high-melodrama of the Elton John duet, the regular World Music kick under some of the other tracks, bold use of classical tenors and a willingness to experiment with motifs and forms that you just don’t get with the current generation of pop-poppets.
Lacking any pop-anthems like Running Up that Hill or Hounds of Love, you’ll have to settle for a lush, atmospheric and, at times, cloyingly intimate soundscape. 50 Words for Snow re-states Bush’s credentials as ‘art-rock goddess’ (I’m sure I’ve stolen that from somewhere, forgiveness, please). Lose yourself in Bush’s dream-state for an hour, it genuinely is a musical ‘experience.’ RC
50 Words For Snow will be Kate’s 10th studio album on her own label Fish People and released on 21 November 2011