Hounds of Love (Remastered)
If Kate Bush’s first two albums were steeped in the art-rock of the ’70s (florid piano melodies, thrumming Hammond organs, a Spiders from Mars-grade rhythm section), then 1985’s Hounds of Love, the British singer-songwriter’s fifth LP, didn’t just reflect its era—it helped define it. Few songs are more evocative of the sound of mid-’80s pop than “Running Up That Hill,” with its gated drums, quasi-dance beat, eerie vocal effects, and instantly recognizable synthesizer melody. Likewise, few albums did more to take the ambition of progressive rock and port it into the digital era.
Split across two side-length suites—the five-song Hounds of Love and the seven-song The Ninth Wave—the album grapples with big themes: the gulf between men and women, the fierceness of a mother’s love, the nature of dreams. Bush’s voice is an instrument of breathtaking power, capable of both tenderness and force, yet Bush herself is everywhere and nowhere: Particularly in the second suite, her songwriting gives shape to a kind of fragmented consciousness, a shifting array of thoughts, voices, and perspectives. Cryptic metaphors and allusions give the songs an unmistakably metaphysical aura, and the production follows suit. Bush recorded the album at home, in the 48-track studio she installed in a barn behind her house just outside of London, in a lengthy process of demoing, overdubbing, and layering. Availing herself of a state-of-the-art Fairlight CMI sampling synthesizer, one of the first of its kind, she peppered the album with sound effects: church bells, breaking glass, bits of film dialogue, and the snippets of Georgian folk music that give “Hello Earth” its otherworldly power.
Yet the LP never feels overstuffed. There’s an abiding elegance to sounds like the fretless bass of “Mother Stands for Comfort,” and whenever the album reaches a peak of intensity, she instinctively knows to pull back. “Waking the Witch” builds from a dreamlike reverie to an almost overwhelming surfeit of input—industrial-strength drum machine, atonal guitars, death-metal growls—only to give way to “Watching You Without Me,” a shimmering ballad located halfway between Japanese ambient music and The Beatles’ most psychedelic pop. In 1985, there was nothing else like it out there. And in some ways, nothing else has ever come close to its mix of pop hooks and avant-garde sound-sculpting. But Hounds of Love also opened an entire world to be explored, with generations of musicians—Björk, Fiona Apple, Tori Amos, Joanna Newsom, Julia Holter, to name just a few—following in Bush’s wake.