By Paul Rigby
Kate Bush is a frustrating figure. An artist of unfulfilled genius, unrealised potential, incomplete as a legend. An introverted extrovert. And this album is symbolic of the Bush enigma.
Her fifth album, recorded in 1985, arguably her best release to date, its reputation can possibly be pinned down to the results of an argument she had with her label of the time, EMI. Frankly, EMI were unhappy with Bush and the time and money she was spending on her studio projects. In effect, Bush said, “Sod this,” but in a far more lady-like fashion I’m sure, and returned home to build a new, 48-track, studio of her own. She needed to do this for the sake of her career. Just listen to Lionheart, her second album released soon after her explosive debut, The Kick Inside, for example, which exhibited tremendous progress but sounded rushed. Many people, including Bush, blamed EMI for that.
Hounds Of Love, therefore, was a statement of independency. Oozing quality and hits: Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God), Cloudbusting and the title track, the album shows polish but also acts as a well of ideas of an often left-field variety that acted as a perfect fillip to other, contemporary, mainstream releases of that year from the likes of Phil Collins, Howard Jones, Whitney Huston and The Thompson Twins. In fact, Bush’s album allowed her to sit on the cusp of more artistically relevant acts who were also producing albums at that time such as the Cure’s Head On The Door, The Smiths’ Meat Is Murder and Cocteau Twins’ Aikea-Guinea.
US-based audiophile label, Audio Fidelity, decided to pursue the reissue rights for a vinyl release. The first step was to track down the album rights which had reverted to Bush herself. Company boss, Marshall Blonstein, was amazed to learn the Bush was personally going to release her precious master tapes to the company and that they would be allowed to master from them – especially as those tapes would have to cross the Atlantic. Always a nervous procedure.
“We had the masters shipped over to America,” confirmed Blonstein. “We brought in mastering engineers, Kevin Gray and Steve Hoffman. They listened to and got a feel for the original album pressings so that they knew what the standard was and what they had to beat. When they got into the studio with the original master, however, they were just amazed at the quality and the clarity of the tapes. They were beyond decent – they were pristine. As Steve told me, it was a ‘smiler’, when he listened to the clarity of the instruments, the clarity of the voice and the production. Steve was impressed with the original releases but, when he heard the masters he said it was near perfection. That doesn’t happen very often.”
The mastering attended to slight leanings of sibilance in Bush’s voice. Hoffman wanted to make the vocal as soft and as non-intrusive as possible. He also invited all of the instruments to join the party, nothing was hidden or made louder by adding EQ. The result is a mighty LP: a production that both Bush and Audio Fidelity should be proud of – it’s certainly the best release of this album on the market in any format.
But, despite the fact that this album is a classic. Despite the fact that this particular issue should be praised, don’t let Bush off the hook. Don’t let her get away with it. Don’t be glad of the crumbs.
For Bush only hints at potential greatness. But it’s more serious than that. A lot more. Should we have waited so long for such a good record? Bush is not the first and won’t be the last artist to suffer at the hands of the corporate music business but let’s face it, she took too long to manage her recording affairs, she shouldn’t have bowed to pressure to rush out her second album, she was badly advised on her one and only, money-losing, tour and, for someone who really should be bigger than Madonna, she didn’t undertake a US tour – a mistake.
She is also a private person and, hence, rations her art to the public. Another mistake. Surely someone with so much talent, in fact, anyone who declares themselves to be an artist, is bound by their art to give it priority? Surely, the choice is: art or family, art or privacy, art or self? Any talented artist belongs to society because they are a product of that society and so they have a duty to not only return that talent back from where it derived but also to shine a light back on that society.
Hence, Bush could be accused of dabbling, of being thoughtless, even selfish, leaking her art to the populous like a thoughtless gardener sprinkles barely enough water onto an ailing plant. Artists are not here for our entertainment, they are here to make us understand ourselves. They are contemporary philosophers because they are part of the zeitgeist: a product of contemporary culture, technology and political thought. When an artist withdraws or rations their talent they are, thus, harming society as a whole.
What would have happened if Picasso had said, “Look I can’t be arsed, ok here’s a sketch – now don’t bother me.” The entire structure of the art world would have been different. With Bush, shouldn’t the musical world be different…more different? Have we thus been deprived? Have we missed out on a potential revolution? Who knows? What we do know is that Bush has not given culture the necessary knock-out punch but just a glancing blow. It’s not enough.
She had the ability to be as influential as Bing Crosby was in his era – and she bottled it. Society shouldn’t laud her as cult figure, society should never forgive her.
Stand-out track: Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)
An unusual track because, when the single begins, it sounds like she’s already been singing for a minute and a half. Your speakers will need to project structure and solidity during the beating percussion to keep a tight hold on the performance.
Stand-out track: Cloudbusting
A track that not only presents varying tonal variations but also plays with different time signatures which begs the question: is Kate Bush the best female prog rock artist in the business? A good front end is required here to allow the complexity of this track to be tracked perfectly.
Hounds Of Love – A Recorded History
1985 CD EMI E2-46164
1985 Cassette EMI E4-46164
1997 LP/CD EMI 8214061
2001 CD EMI 5252392
2006 CD Toshiba EMI 67819 (Import with bonus tracks)
2008 CD Caroline 21375
2010 LP Audio Fidelity AFZLP 087