Rippucino. We’ll return to this shortly – but first, a question. What is it about Kate Bush that makes men, women and John Lydon go weak at the knees? Her allure, of course, has been enhanced by enigma. Though it comes just months after ‘Director’s Cut’, on which Bush played plastic surgeon with two of her droopier LPs, ‘50 Words For Snow’ is only her second collection of new material since 1993. In that time, she’s been spotted in public less frequently than Elvis Presley.
But enigma would count for nothing if Bush were rubbish – which, of course, she isn’t. She’s brilliant, sometimes inspired, and this tenth studio album finds her gifts undiminished. It’s a sixty-five-minute art-pop opus comprising “seven songs set against the backdrop of falling snow”; some are about the white stuff, others just mention it, the rest possess a definite wintry quality.
Kate’s tech maven days are behind her, but her musicality remains formidable. On the opening triptych of ‘Snowflake’, ‘Lake Tahoe’ and ‘Misty’, she creates uncommonly evocative soundscapes from little more than piano, strings and her voice. When she does embellish – employing a chorister on ‘Snowflake’, for example – she does so with the skilled economy of a master craftsman.
The songs that follow are more ostentatious. ‘Wild Man’ has overdubbed vocal hooks recalling her 1982 album ‘The Dreaming’; ‘Snowed In On Wheeler Street’ is an epic film romance in song – starring Bush and Elton John (!) as star-crossed lovers. The title track works what might be called a “tundra gusts shuffle”. After these showier moments, the album ends tenderly with ‘Among Angels’, a suitably seraphic piano ballad on which Bush turns spiritual adviser.
What really makes you go weak at the knees, though, is her imagination. Who else writes songs about a tryst with a snowman (‘Misty’), a dog’s dreamland reunion with its comatose owner (‘Lake Tahoe’) or an elusive quasi-human creature in West Bengal (‘Wild Man’)? Yet more idiosyncratic is the title track. Here Bush goads the nation’s favourite dictionary-nosher – Stephen Fry, natch – into eloquently listing those fifty words for snow. One of them is “rippucino”.
Words by NICK LEVINE