A part of me is glad we didn’t get any snow this year where I live. The time when everyone looked forward to snow as a picturesque, welcome work-disrupting change of scene seems to be long gone. Instead we’re greeted with scenes of shanty-towns on the floors of Heathrow terminals, vulnerable OAPs with hypothermia and, of course, the inevitable shortage of our most precious resource: grit. Through all the trouble it brings though, there’s something weirdly wonderful about the grinding halt weather like this brings us to. The world coming to a stand-still is something that some of us really need sometimes, however inconvenient it may seem to be. The theme of a romantic, snow-smothered landscape has obviously been mined before, but it’s about time another great British institution revived it, in the face of stony-faced ITN news reports.
Kate Bush’s magnificent double LP ‘Aerial’ was drenched in a warm, summer glow, but ’50 Words For Snow’ is (predictably) the flip-side: a snapshot of a country in the throes of winter stasis. Anyone expecting pop songs or instant hits will probably be disappointed (only one song is less than seven minutes long), but this is not a record to be taken lightly. While it may seem sparse on the surface, further plays and attention reveals this to be a true microcosm, brimming with human warmth, subtle and dense musical detail and enough atmosphere that it renders air conditioning obsolete. Bush is a timeless English convention; she inhabits a time neither now, nor then, nor soon. In anyone else’s hands, a song about a woman who makes love to a snowman would be something sordid, but here, on ‘Misty’, it’s something beautiful and sad, not to mention totally peerless. She toys with the line between reality and fantasy until they become the same thing. She’s also never afraid to push for new sounds which, on paper, probably wouldn’t make much sense, like Andy Fairweather Low’s yowls in the chorus of ‘Wild Man’ which shows a team of mountain climbers discovering a Yeti. Elsewhere, she converses with a snowflake played by her son Bertie (‘Snowflake’), duets with Elton John as two star-crossed lovers (‘Snowed In At Wheeler Street’, one of the best love songs of the last decade, for sure) and ropes in Stephen Fry to list her 50 words for snow over hypnotic drums and quietly anthemic choruses (the title track).
While it may take a while to break the ice on this record (pun not intended, initially) you eventually come to realise that there really isn’t a wasted note on this 75 minute record. The mostly-solo piano/vocal venture, ‘Among Angels’ could be the record’s most sparse moment, but what it dispenses with in instrumentation, it makes up for with Bush’s stunning delivery of a lyric about omnipresent love in the darkest of times. I’ve loved so many records I can’t hope to count, but there’s only a handful that feel as if they love me back; this is one of them. Further proof, if we need it, that history will be very kind to Kate Bush and this record will remain ageless long after the winter thaws.