One of the more interesting musical phenomena to come out of the ’70s was Kate Bush. I call her a phenomena because she influenced so many, to the point of carving out a genre all of her own. Tori Amos and Alison Goldfrapp are just two artist who have been influenced heavily by Kate Bush’s sense of drama, precision and mysticism. Perfectionist is often a term associated with Kate (and Tori Amos) as she records infrequently, but to good effect when it happens.
While Kate Bush had limited success in America during the early part of her career, it would be her 5th album and masterpiece The Hounds of Love that would move her out of the punch-out bins of record stores in America. Recorded with the latest technology in her home-built studio, the Hounds of Love combined advanced synthesizer and drum machines with traditional Irish folk instruments. In fact, Kate Bush along with Peter Gabriel were the first to use the new Fairlight CMI keyboard. Others using synthizers used them to create cold techno pop while Bush created a surreal dreamworld that could be as organic sounding as some of the traditional instruments she used. Like Sting with the Police, Bush would call on classic literature and film for inspiration with references to poems and odd sound clips from relatively obscure films.
Recorded with two themes, the first half was composed of more accessible songs. It was from this side that nearly all the albums singles came (“Running Up that Hill”, “Cloudbusting”, “Hounds of Love”, and “The Big Sky”. The other side called The Ninth Wave was inspired by a poem by Alfred Tennyson. This was the darker side of Hounds of Love with vivid surreal soundscapes that flirted with the abstract. Many of the mystical elements came from mixing her classical background with her Irish heritage, formally suppressed on earlier recordings. It was an original take on the same set of influences that vaguely colored the sound of bands like Big Country, U2 and the Alarm.
The Hounds of Love was propelled in America on the strength of its first single “Running Up that Hill”. The driving percussion gave the song a militant march song vibe that was exploited in the vaguely fascist looking live TV performance. The actual video for the song showcased Kate’s classical dancing abilities and had its share of symbolic creepiness. In keeping with her knack for interesting visuals, the next single for “Cloudbusting” would star no less than Donald Sutherland in one of the first depictions of steampunk in a music video. The juxtaposition of mechanical and organic was just like Bush’s music: as creepy as it was beautiful.
The Hounds of Love pushed Kate Bush over the art rock barrier and into the fringes of the mainstream – if only for a few weeks in America. The sterling production values and long time between the recording of her last album The Dreaming in 1980 prompted many to call Bush a perfectionist. In addition to winning many nominations for best single, producer and album of the year awards, Hounds of Love has grown in critical acclaim as time passed. Mastered by Steve Hoffman, the recording itself is an excellent example of analog recording and digital mastering. It has since been remastered on at least two occasions with expanded material.
The timeless nature of this album, its accessibility and mystery easily make it one of my top 10 of all time.