Completing the revision of her earlier work on Director's Cut clearly provided the catharsis Kate Bush had hoped for. She immediately began work on a brand new album, a collection of songs that shared a theme: snow. Astonishing everyone, probably including herself, she managed to get it ready for the winter of 2011, meaning she made good on her jest of delivering two albums in a single year. It was like 1978 all over again!
50 Words For Snow is, like the snowflakes it evokes, hard to pin down. It is a work of popular music, but it is not "pop". Kate has taken the freedom of jazz and created her own genre, allowing her unique creativity to follow each tangent and flash of inspiration. With no major corporate label to limit her freedom, she can choose to deliver an album of seven tracks that together provide over an hour of music. There are no longer any rules, there is no formular: it is art as pure as the driven snow.
She did attempt to release a "single", but Wild Man, a tender tale of a Yeti sighting set in the heart of Asia, was never going to make sense to the iTunes generation. It once again shows Kate's ability to conjure a distant culture by carefully and sensitively entwining their musical heritage into her own.
Unusually for a Kate album, there are other voices leading songs. Her son Bertie provides a haunting descant on Snowflake, falling from a cloud into the welcoming arms of his mother. Kate realises a personal ambition when she gets to duet with her hero, Elton John, on the time-travelling love story, Snowed In At Wheeler Street. Stephen Fry plays Prof. Joseph Yupik on the title track, a linguist challenged by Kate to name those fifty words for snow.
The classically trained voices of Stefan Roberts and Michael Wood create a perfect counterpoint to Kate on Lake Tahoe, a ghost story about a woman who drowns while searching for her lost dog.
The closing track on the album, Among Angels, is really a cheat, as Kate freely admitted it was written a few years before and has nothing to do with snow. However, I think it is the perfect ending, as it evokes shimmering summer, bringing us out of the cold, dark winter, into the light. From its false start to its abrupt ending, it has quickly become a cherished favourite of mine.
50 Words For Snow may have been one of the fastest albums Kate has ever made, but it in no way feels like a rush job. It is the work of a maestro, an artist in total control of their craft. Even in the 80 degree heat of an L.A. "winter", I can put the album on and feel the icy wind and the touch of a snowflake on my cheek.
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