If Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon could be considered one of the few “perfect” albums of the 70s, with every piece and part put together in such a manner to create the balanced cohesiveness without blemish or weakness for any second of the album, I would say that Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love could be considered one of the few perfect albums of the 80s. Like Dark Side, it’s perfectly crafted for maximum effect, meaning, musically cohesive and brilliant. Not to mention, it is an amazing work of art. Not one second should or could be changed, added, or taken away, to make it any better than it is.
Hounds is Kate’s 5th album. I believe it took her at least a year or more to create and perfect it. She had been very successful early in her career, and though the album preceding Hounds, The Dreaming, is an amazing work in its self, (as well as a good indicator of what was to come next) she had dipped a little in the consciousness of the musical public. People did not know if Kate would still remain a major artist. Then, in 1985, she dropped the bombshell that was The Hounds of Love, and she was, if not already, immortalized as a major artist. She was always very good, but this album took everything to a new level.
Like Dark Side, Hounds is divided into two halves (as all albums in those days had to be), but unlike Dark Side, which plays like one continuous song from start to finish (both sides included), each side of Hounds is distinctly different. Side one, Hounds of Love, is a collection of individual songs. Though many might say it’s Kate’s way of working together unrelated ideas as well as give the record company the possibility of some “hits,” a closer listen will reveal that each individual song flows together perfectly, and each are an amazing work in of themselves. The 2nd side, The Ninth Wave, is where the album is elevated to the status of greatness. This is not simply a collection of songs but one cohesive vision, and it plays (listener take note) seamlessly from start to finish like one long song.
Kate had been experimenting with the Fairlight for many years, and began with Hounds to write some songs, in a similar way to Peter Gabriel’s Security, around rhythms and loops. This was cutting edge at the time. Brian Eno and others of his time created music similar to this in the 70s. Talkingheads had a couple amazing records in the early 80s, aided by Eno, where rhythm and atmosphere took the front seat, but they mostly still used analogue instruments. Kate and Gabriel, among others, in the early 80s, with the aid of technology, started actually programming and sampling. The result for Hounds is a completely new sound for Kate. If I were a songwriter, and I am not, I would feel limited by repeating a single rhythm or loop throughout a song. But for those like Kate Bush, who are extremely talented songwriters, it provided a new creative tool. Every beat, every synth sound, every instrument on Hounds is carefully crafted for a completely unique sound and atmosphere.
Song three is The Big Sky. Like the previous two songs, it’s written around a rhythm and a consistent sonic coloring. It is an enjoyable song, almost sounding as big as the sky she is trying to describe.
In the 4th song, Mother Stands for Comfort, Kate confronts the “unconditional love” and rose-colored lens a mother has for her children. Even if the son is a murderer, the son’s mother will see the best in him and sometimes even hide him or try to protect him. Here we are forced to think of the negative aspects of this unconditional love of motherhood. Usually a good thing, sometimes it can be bad for the child and the child’s victim. If she really loved her son, would she not turn him in to protect him from himself? Musically, this song, though it flows perfectly with the rest on side one, gives the listener a break from the more upbeat rhythms of the first 3 songs. There is still a repetitive drum line, but here the lovely bass comes to the forefront. The synth sounds are, again, completely unique to Kate and the album. But, there is also Kate’s beautiful Piano. The song has dark tones and little sounds of crashing and breaking, perfectly conveying the meaning of the song.
Dark Side of The Moon had an overarching theme of the pointlessness of life, that life is fleeting, the resulting hedonism, and there may be no reason to draw a distinction between sanity and madness. Dark Side is existential in the way pop culture uses the word “existential,” while The Ninth Wave, the second half of Hounds of Love, is about death, the temporal nature of life, but not about pointlessness. I would argue The Ninth Wave more deeply explores the reality of our lives. Life is short and fleeting, and “in the midst of life we are in death.” The Ninth Wave is tied together with a theme of death. Death, in this musical work, is symbolized by water. This is not a new concept, but a powerful illustration: Baptism also uses water as a symbol of death. Not only does Kate weave death and water together, but she inserts the fragility of life; that life is partially a waiting for death. In life, we are sleeping or waiting to die. And death comes with certainty but often when we do not expect. And, in the end of The Ninth Wave, as with life, we are surprised to find that death is not the end. There is a Morning Fog of rebirth and resurrection. It emerges from the darkness like one switching on the lights in a dark room.
Next, the listener is lead directly into “Jig of Life.” This song has elements of traditional British Isles jig music with a fiddle. But, instead of sounding happy like many traditionally jigs, this one is very angry. There is no screaming; this is not heavy metal. It is successfully emotionally angry without being overly bombastic. It is about the sorrow and grief that is the loss of life. When we die, will we be forgotten? Kate is angry at death for taking away each moment which we can never get back. She talks about holding onto moments like they are objects, but she can never do that. We have no power over death. We are nearing the climax of the story arch of The Ninth Wave. The plot thickens with a piece of poetry at the end of the song. We are born, we live, death calls to us, written on our palm is our time span, and soon “the life spray cools.” Moments come and go like ocean waves. In this waking life we can not better hold onto a moment than we can a wave in the sea. And, like the passing of water, so the time of our life passes.