What’s to like?
An innovative and ground-breaking release by an artist who valued creative integrity more than record sales. Hounds Of Love was a bold album to release thirty years ago, and continues to resonate with a new generation of musicians, who cite it as a major influence on their own creativity.
The low down
I can remember my first sight of Kate Bush, singing Wuthering Heights on Top Of The Pops, and thinking “weird woman, weird song”. But then what could you expect from a 14 year old whose music diet consisted of Deep Purple and Black Sabbath? Now that I’m a good deal older, a little wiser and a little more sage about eclectic artists, I can appreciate how original this must have seemed in 1978, and it still stands up well now:
Just as well Kate wasn’t relying on me to bolster her career at that point! But I didn’t really take much notice of her until Hounds Of Love bounded onto the scene in 1985, and all of a sudden, everyone was talking about her. Alas, I was still heavily into “Them Heavy People” with the advent of thrash metal, and Bush’s music just seemed too lightweight and MTV-inspired to really hold my attention.
But I did like the videos, especially Cloudbusting:
My student watering hole was one of the first to install a video jukebox, and after ten pints, watching Kate’s videos was easier on the impending hangover than watching all that fruit go round in circles in Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer video!
But it’s taken till now to actually sit down with one of her albums and actively listen to it. When Steven Wilson recently announced a new album in the works, he referenced several eighties albums which had influenced the writing and musical direction for his new album. One of these was Bush’s Hounds Of Love, so I thought, why not give it a go now? A sort of warm-up act if you like.
I picked up the most recent edition, a 2011 release on Bush’s Fish People label. I know an earlier edition was issued as a remaster, but whether the sound on this edition has been further tweaked is open to speculation. What I can tell you though, is that it sounds terrific, especially on headphones. I’ve been so used to hearing its songs on the radio, or in the background, so I was familiar with them, but once I slipped the headphones on it kind of felt like Dorothy opening the door in black and white and walking into the full colour of the land of Oz.
Hounds Of Love has a really detailed mix, with so much going on both speakers, and in the background, it feels a little like a 3D experience at times especially during the Ninth Wave suite, which took up the whole of side two on the original vinyl LP.
Apparently Bush took an alternative approach to recording the album, initially by crafting demo versions of each song, but then instead of re-recording them from scratch, she simply built added layers onto the demos, continually overdubbing and remixing along the way. I guess that shows how highly she regarded those first takes, trying to retain that sense of originality and adventure that can sometimes end up buried in endless retakes.
It took her a year to complete the recordings to her satisfaction, and you have to respect her for sticking to her guns and not letting record label pressure rush her into delivering a compromise. At that point in her career, sales were dropping and the label were getting a bit antsy about their investment. But as with so many outstanding albums, sometimes you simply have to trust that the artist knows what they’re doing and have a little faith in the end result – the wait is usually worth it.
Interestingly, as I listened across the whole album, I was struck by how much its overall feel had in common with Peter Gabriel’s album So, which came a year later. Looking back, it’s no surprise that Bush and Gabriel duetted on his song Don’t Give Up, given how much they had in common – artists committed to art before commerce, and constantly seeking to innovate and evolve on their own terms. Both also made considerable use of the emerging Fairlight synthesiser and its sampling technology to adapt existing instruments and sounds into something new and ground breaking.
Incidentally, So is also referenced by Steven Wilson as a major influence on his new album, so perhaps I’ll get round to sharing some thoughts on that album in a future article.
I could wax lyrical about each of the songs on Hounds, but that’s already been accomplished by others far more intimate with Bush’s music than myself. What I can say however, is that it’s very much a complete album and works best if you take the time to listen to it in one sitting, especially the Ninth Wave suite. It’s so full of ideas and sounds and different musical styles, ranging from gentle piano refrains to jigs and reels, from collages of sound to arrangements that sit comfortably within the realms of prog rock. Does it represent an artist’s indulgence? Possibly.
Still, the artist herself clearly stood by it when she chose it as the centrepiece of her show during brief return to live performance in 2014. I know a lot of fans are disappointed that those performances are only available on cd, with Bush declining to release the filmed version. But I rather like the idea of going back to the original version on Hounds and letting my imagination conjure up images instead.
If Steven Wilson is referencing Hounds Of Love as a major influence on his new album then he’s setting a high bar for his music to match, not least because Hounds is so well produced. My wife used it as the album to demo sound systems when we were in the market for a new hi-fi, and that was twenty years ago using the first pressing of the cd. Even back then it sounded good.
Interestingly, I saw an interview where Wilson admitted he’s extended an offer to Bush to remix her earlier albums…..he’s still waiting for a response.