50 Words for Snow is Kate Bush’s first album of new material since 2005’s Aerial. Taken alongside her Director’s Cut album of reworked older songs, which came out in May, it means a bumper year of activity from her. This is cause for celebration – and, for its first half, 50 Words for Snow provides much else to celebrate too.
“Snowflake” is a marvellous evocation of a hushed snowy landscape, an effect conveyed by slow eddies of piano chords and gentle percussion, on which Bush shares the vocals with her son Bertie. It lasts 10 minutes, typical of a slowly unfolding album whose seven tracks run for over an hour. “Lake Tahoe” features more wintry piano, atmospheric orchestral arrangements and an intimate, torch-lit vocal from Bush, who, at 53, has acquired a warm huskiness to her voice. “Misty” is an outlandish but jazzily sensual fantasy of a woman being seduced by a snowman who not unsurprisingly melts in her bed. “He is dissolving,” Bush sings with sibilant relish. It is the most erotic song about a snowman you will ever hear. But the album wobbles with the hammy Elton John duet “Snowed in at Wheeler St”, and topples over on the title track in which Bush invites Stephen Fry to dream up 50 terms for snow like some droning apparition from Radio 4’s Just a Minute. 50 Words for Snow elucidates its wintry theme with flashes of brilliance but the odd treacherous icy patch too.
50 Words for Snow