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50 WORDS FOR SNOW

Kate Bush

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Nightfly
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
5 stars Kate Bush is on a roll. 50 Words For Snow is the second album to be released by her in 2011, though Director's Cut was reworking's of old songs so in reality it's her first album of new material since 2005's Aerial. Anyone like myself who found that album so captivating is likely to have similar feelings about this one too.

50 Words For Snow whilst not exactly what you'd call a concept album does have a theme running through it and not surprisingly that theme is snow. From a simple snowflake to building snowmen to lovers meeting and being separated across time as on Snowed In At Wheeler Street there's a wintry theme throughout. The albums largely restrained and mellow vibe has a similar feel to much of Aerial which itself had plenty of quiet moments. Here it's even more so, the album content to be dominated by sparse jazzy piano and lightly played drums much of the time played by the incredible Steve Gadd no less. It's not until later in the album when anything approaching upbeat actually happens. This however works in its favour making it a wonderful late night chilling out in front of the fire, obligatory malt whisky in hand sort of album. Many of the seven tracks are around the ten minute mark with Misty even being over thirteen minutes. Contrary to what you may think in view of the often sparse arrangements this actually works very well giving each piece chance to breathe and slowly grow and is totally compelling. There's also the very occasional use of electronica as on Snowed In At Wheeler Street though done in a subtle way that doesn't destroy the overall vibe.

Bush makes considerable use of contributions from other vocalists including Elton John, Andy Fairweather Low and even her son Bertie. Fortunately they on the whole add rather than detract to Bush's ethereal tones and not allowed to dominate too much with Fairweather Low's high register being particularly complimentary. Perhaps most notable is the contribution from Stephen Fry whose authorative spoken word vocal lists 50 words for snow on the title track; a perfect choice. Best of all Gadd drives it along beautifully with a stunning shuffle rhythm making it a rare up tempo moment.

No doubt many will still prefer Bush's earlier works but the proofs here that she can be just as vital and inventive now as in the past. She's one of a kind and it's difficult to find fault with this wonderful album. I could live without the Baritone vocals that accompany her on Lake Tahoe, but that's merely personal preference rather than picking fault. Quite simply 50 Word's For Snow deserves 5 stars.

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Send comments to Nightfly (BETA) | Report this review (#579010)
Posted Wednesday, November 30, 2011 | Review Permalink
Chris S
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Unquestionably Kate Bush continues to evolve into beautiful and unpredictable directions. Yes, there is a semblance of the Aerial theme of Kate's ubiquitous piano laden tracks throughout 50 Words For Snow. But I probably stand alone here, this is a conceptual work again, like it's predecessor and Kate Bush as usual comes up trumps in artistic hierarchy.

The albums main characteristic is restrained repetitiveness, which always works wonders. The opening " Snowflake" with her son Bertie handling the lead vocals is a 10 minute classic preamble much like " prologue" off Aerial. " Misty" is a wonderful sidestep version to a novel and Kate's dream of seducing a melting snowman only to wake up to a wet bed! For those familair with her works will fondly remember the washing machine song. Her real life partner and guitarist Dan Macintosh is excellent as usual as is John Giblin on bass. One of the highlights on the album is Elton John's contribution to " Snowed In At Wheeler Street"...I never knew the guy could sing so deep. And of course Stephen Fry's narration for the " 50 Words For Snow" along with KB egging him on makes for delightful listening. " Wild Man" the single is very apt and definitely the most commercial but for this reviewer the sweet spot is the closer " Among Angels" which although different from the rest of the album, is without doubt the most cutting lyrically with KB's steady keyboard work. A stellar release form the magic woman of knowing the Lhakpa-La. It may grow to a masterpiece.

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Send comments to Chris S (BETA) | Report this review (#580781)
Posted Saturday, December 03, 2011 | Review Permalink
AtomicCrimsonRush
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Symphonic Team
3 stars 50 words for mesmerising beauty.

The inimitable Kate Bush continues to produce quality music and this concept album is no exception to her usual high calibre vocal performance. She exudes a beauty unmeasured by female artists. The high octave range is mesmirising and the music ranges from minimalist piano to orchestrations. This is a very measured album that meanders along slowly and patiently. Kate sounds reflective and melancholy throughout with only the occasional percussion tempo or rock feel. I believe this is perhaps her most personal album encapsulating a sense of isolation or loneliness and yet not morbid. It will speak to many listeners who are feeling likewise.

I think it is also an uplifting album as Kate's voice is so compelling and entrancing in its beauty. Her son Bertie has a stint on vocals with 'Snowflake' and reminds one of the type of music found on her masterful "Aerial". It begins with minimalist piano, very pretty but sombre. The vocals are melancholy and reflective with some achingly gorgeous inflections from the princess of prog. Elton John appears on 'Snowed In At Wheeler Street' which is a pleasant surprise. Stephen Fry's recognisable voice is the narrative force on '50 Words For Snow' and he spars off with Kate in a humorous banter. The single on the album is 'Wild Man' that stands out as perhaps the most listenable for non- Kate Bush fans. It all culminates in a dreamy closing track. I enjoyed listening to this album in a relaxing frame of mind as it is easy on the ears and tantalisingly beautiful. I think it is a genuine return for the legendary Kate Bush and would sound fantastic in a live performance.

Kate Bush's "50 Words For Snow" is a return for the prog diva and I have always been enamoured with her style, the way she evokes passion and power with incredible high octave range and theatrical performances. This album is no exception and in fact one of her proggiest releases along with the astonishing "Aerial". In this same year of 2011 Bush also released "The Director's Cut" that was an album full of remixed, re-edited and upgraded versions of songs from "The Sensual World" and "The Red Shoes". But her latest album is 7 all new songs encompassing some of her most beautiful reflections. The tracklisting demonstrates the way Bush has developed over the years, producing an album with very lengthy conceptual songs and some incredible vocals.

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Send comments to AtomicCrimsonRush (BETA) | Report this review (#582178)
Posted Sunday, December 04, 2011 | Review Permalink
Finnforest
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars A return to form...her best since The Dreaming

I hate when reviewers used the old "best work since....." line but this is one of the few cases it seems appropriate. After releasing four of the most stunning and fantastic albums in rock history, including two masterpieces (The Kick Inside and The Dreaming), a light in Bush's eyes simply went out. In the period between Dreaming and Hounds, a certain giddy spark of the youthful artist dimmed. A different kind of sadness would creep in, and the reliably open performer with "wow" in her eyes and heart would retreat. The reasons for this, which are personal and perfectly legitimate, are not important at this point but can be felt in the work. And I would submit that spark was crucial in Bush's finest work. Those first four album have pure magic in their veins, filled with total, out-of-this-world creativity and passion. After The Dreaming, she retreated a bit, tired of fame and interviews and the business, and eventually losing some people close to her.

While many will hate me for saying this the slide began with Hounds. The Ninth Wave saves the album and is very impressive, but side one sounds pretty forgettable these days. The tracks can be catchy but they are missing something. Then came Sensual World and The Red Shoes, both which feature some nice songs but again, are relative husks of what was happening a decade prior. Finally, the comeback Aerial was a disaster, a lifeless bore in my opinion. I can remember my profound disappointment with that album and over time my appreciation has grown very little. So when a friend sent me the link to stream Bush's latest I went to listen with all the enthusiasm of a dental visit. That first spin did little for me but I was intrigued enough to purchase the album anyway. I'm happy to report that Kate has rediscovered the magic this time. Of course it is different than the magic of the first four albums, more mature, more world-weary, but it is there. Bush as much as confirms the "come full circle" feel of this in a November 2011 interview saying she hasn't been this proud of an album since her first one, and that it felt like the beginning of a new era for her, while Director's Cut felt like the closure of an era.

"50 Words for Snow" is officially presented as "stories set against the backdrop of falling snow." Bush has created seven unique and loosely connected stories, fables, reflections, of and on winter themed moments. Some have fantasy elements and others are more personal, but all are exquisitely presented with memorable tunes and the Bush creativity of days long past. The production and arrangements are still subtle and toned down but in the case of this material that was the proper choice. The music is repetitive and meditative, designed to lull the listener into an old overstuffed chair, sipping tea as he/she gazes out the window at falling snow at dusk, as the mind wanders. It's an incredible journey one is taken on here.

Much of the album focuses on Kate's piano played softly and thoughtfully over long periods of time, letting "rock and roll" fall away for the most part. Her voice is in fine form despite years of smoking, a bit lower, but very expressive. "Snowflake" features the vocals of her son giving winter imagery as she counters with a comforting refrain about being there for him. His natural high voice as a young kid works wonders, giving the piece the feel of a play, of some classic fiction. What an opening. "The world is so loud, keep falling, I'll find you" she sings to us. It lulls you into a very beautiful space and requires patience; this is not a pop album. Don't bother with this album unless you have a space you can listen to music without distraction. We are then treated to a ghost story about a woman who appears under the water in "Lake Tahoe", a very deep and cold lake in the western United States noted for strange stories about its depths. Kate returns to the themes of water and drowning with these marvelous formal choir vocalists countering her own. In one of many neat ways she ties things back to snow, the Victorian ghost from the lake comes to the surface to call her dog, "Snowflake", with Kate assuming character. Next she plays a bit like Vince Guaraldi with light jazzy piano in a very strange love song where the fact that the lover is a snowman leads to fantastic lyrical moments, though below the surface Kate has said the song is pretty dark. This track is beautifully embellished with Steve Gadd's tasteful drumming and these perfect guitar brushstrokes by Danny McIntosh.

The album's second half shifts a bit from the incredible meditations of the first half. "Wild Man" is the closest we get to a rocker here, the story of some people who discover a Yeti and choose to help him escape rather than be captured by explorers and paraded in front of the world. It has the most amazing chorus, these voices obscured by an effect that sounds like people yelling in a blizzard. It's one of those rare magical moments which make you feel something you can't explain. She captures the wonder of this mythical beast that we all kind of hope exists, and the instincts a few of us would have to protect it rather than destroy it. "Snowed in at Wheeler Street" is the much discussed duet with Elton John, about lovers who keep crossing paths throughout time only to be ripped apart by fate. Bush says John had never heard the song, had no idea what he was about to do, he just walked into the studio and laid down this impressive vocal. It's a mini film in your head reminiscent of the great Jaglom film, "Déjŕ vu." (Coincidence hit close to home as my dear parents were residents at the end of an actual Wheeler street for 54 years, and snowed in many times to boot.) The title track will be a love it or hate it moment for some fans as Stephen Fry delivers a series of alternate words for snow, while Kate periodically eggs him on with mischievous delight. She claimed to still be thinking up the last few as Fry readied for the session and it does boast a spontaneous feel. At first I thought the song tedious and figured it would be one to skip, but once you stop thinking in terms of the wordplay part, you realize the subtle pleasantries of the music have crept under your skin. The last track "Among Angels" is the only one that is solo Kate, just her at the piano in the spirit of tracks like Coral Room and This Woman's Work, it is contemplative and soothing. Once again this is Kate singing to our imperfect selves, our broken selves, telling us not to give up, that we are indeed loved even if we don't know it. Its power lies in the sparse intimacy, truly a message from artist to listener if you'll accept it as such. It ends the album experience on a beautiful note. Ironically, the very first chord she plays on this track was wrong, a mistake. She pauses and starts again realizing they would edit it later. But friends talked her into leaving the chord there, saying it added a bit of a mysterious prelude that pulled in the listener. Indeed, when one reads the lyrics, it does seem perfect to have it there.

One reviewer described the album like this: "Snow brings about a state of exception in which there's no pressure to exert ourselves on the outside world: instead, it invites contemplativeness and the prioritization of personal and domestic relationships over professional ones. Bush's habitual provocations to abandon day-to-day concerns while cultivating romantic, internal landscapes have always felt slightly like the work of someone gazing from a window into a blizzard. This, one senses, is her natural territory...Where her past work has often been heavily-layered and breathless, 50 Words for Snow uses negative space to impressive effect; much of the album features little more than voice and flurrying passages of piano which gust across the stave, changing pace and melodic direction as if they're suddenly hitting updrafts." -Joe Kennedy, Quietus

I think that's right. Bush has found a comfort level on this recording that has been missing for some time. Call it command, focus, whatever. Based on the interview I heard it seems to be a very special recording to her as well. If this is the beginning of a new era for Kate Bush, we may be in for a treat. She sounds re-energized in spirit, even when the album's outer personality seems subdued. This album may well be another masterpiece for Kate Bush, though I'll have to see how it feels after some time. But it certainly was one of the year's biggest surprises. Even if you found Aerial a bore as I did, don't write off Snow.

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Send comments to Finnforest (BETA) | Report this review (#590291)
Posted Saturday, December 17, 2011 | Review Permalink
Slartibartfast
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Quality versus quantity.

Some musical artists are driven to put out a heavy stream of musical releases. Kate's approach has been more measured and even though I missed her deeply between The Red Shoes and Aerial, you have to commend her for putting aside the music for family. From what I heard this album almost didn't make it out in 2011. She wanted to release this snow themed album during the northern hemisphere winter and as a happily it came together in time for a pre-Christmas release. No snow was happening when it arrived but it was a rather cold day. An album that will always be worthy of putting on for one of those rare snowy days in the area of the planet I inhabit.

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Send comments to Slartibartfast (BETA) | Report this review (#597422)
Posted Wednesday, December 28, 2011 | Review Permalink
EatThatPhonebook
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars 6/10

"50 Words Of Snow" is a full time dedication to wintery themes.

Legendary singer/songwriter Kate Bush is one of the main contributors of genres such as Art Pop, Progressive Pop, Baroque Pop, and Alternative Rock as a whole. Her tendencies towards creating a solid, Ambient-induced atmosphere have been plenty, that said for her tenth studio album as well, "50 Words Of Snow", a full time dedication to winter, opposing 2005's "Aerial" and its summery themes.

On "50 Words Of Snow" Kate gives herself much more freedom songwriting-wise: she stretches the length of the songs, and makes them a lot more complex, to the point where it reminds of Progressive Rock. But the music itself is very piano oriented, a piano that is for the most part very minimalistic and soft, just like Kate's vocals. A background touch of either keyboards or strings gives a magical aura that surround these seven compositions: It truly is an album that digs deep into the winter spirit, excluding any festivity.

Kate always shows the listener that she knows what she is doing: some of the tracks though have flaws, which to me is an unexpected thing from somebody like Kate Bush: "Lake Tahoe" has a beautifully mysterious intro, with it's soothing chorus vocals, but then the song takes a turn I wish it didn't take, loosing itself a little bit, not being consistently haunting. But other songs like "Misty", a thirteen minute song that shifts just as much as the previously mentioned track, keeps much more consistency in the songwriting. "Snowflake" is the beautiful intro for the album, even though repetitive, it has a somewhat trance-induced atmosphere, even if it's heavily piano driven and quite minimalistic. Another highlight would be "Wildman", a very peculiar song with great hooks, a little more enlivened and much less minimalistic than the other pieces. The other few songs aren't bad, but they haven't personally given me much emotions, and felt a little more flat. And the title track could be straight-out annoying, where Stephen Fry is simply listing 50 different ways to describe snow, and while some of these synonyms are entertaining and clever, the song itself drags on in a way that doesn't even make you interested in the lyrics.

Overall "50 Words For Snow" is a decent listen with some very good songs that stick, other however are flawed in some way or the other, and unfortunately drag the album's enjoyment factor down a bit. Nevertheless, an album that deserves full respect.

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Send comments to EatThatPhonebook (BETA) | Report this review (#711467)
Posted Friday, April 06, 2012 | Review Permalink
3 stars While I've been enjoying this album and with it Kate's more minimalist song-delivery style, I must admit to not feeling that the songs are as creative or envelope-pushing as some of her previous work (Never Forever, The Dreaming, Hounds of Love, The Sensual World). There are a few of her expected "gimmicks"--like her son Bertie's narration and singing in "Snowflake" (9/10), the choral work singing "Lake Tahoe" in the song of that name (8/10), the Himalayan choral singing the chorus in "Wild Man" (8/10), Elton John's strong and equal presence in the emotional duet about two souls re-encountering each other over and over without really fully connecting, "Misty" (9/10), and then, of course, Steven Frye's recitation of Kate's list of 50 terms for snow in the song, "50 Words for Snow" (6/10) Kate's piano playing and singing are exquisite, masterfully mature and infinitely emotional, but the songs are sometimes lacking something . . . je ne sais quois to really bring them into the realm of classic masterpieces. I think they are masterful--expressions of a songwriting master, and I personally find them incredibly powerful and deeply engaging, but I'm not sure the average prog lover will prize them equally. It is for this reason that I think the album deserves three and a half stars, rated down to three because it probably is, in fact, "Good, but non-essential" and not an "excellent addition to ANY prog rock music collection. But for Kate lovers, it is probably worthy of 4.5 stars--a wonderful presentation of emotional songs from one of music's all-time masters.

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Send comments to BrufordFreak (BETA) | Report this review (#1005004)
Posted Wednesday, July 24, 2013 | Review Permalink

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