Eighth in the series. The game plan at the moment is to write 15 or so of these, and 15 or so of a differently-themed, but similarly-approached series, and pick the best 20 for a little self-published zine or something.
And here it is. The big one. All of the albums in this series are canonical pop albums, but mainly because of their sound - which in all instances is innovative, mind-warping ear candy. This series guts those albums of context, and attempts to find whole new things to love in them by examining only their lyrics.
Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love is the best album in this list of classic albums, so it’s potentially the one reduced most in analysis. Not only might the title track be the greatest love song of all time, but it contains in Cloudbusting the greatest sounding love song of all time (i.e., it’s only under examination of the lyrics that the single reveals itself to be not a love song at all).
So Deal With God (retitled ‘Running Up That Hill’ to appease Catholic markets) is a conceptually-interesting piece about how equilibrium and mutual understanding between the genders can only be achieved by striking a sacred bargain for men and women to temporarily swap places, but in the restrictions of the pop format its analysis is largely surface; reined in by synths and crescendos and desperation. All important. Upon the coldness of the lyric sheet though, only the second verse chews at you: “You don’t want to hurt me. But see how deep the bullet lies. Unaware I’m tearing you asunder. Ooh, there is thunder in our hearts.”
The title track’s take on the pursuant nature of love fares better. Genuinely original, its words are as deathless as its melody. Even the non-sequiteur samples from Night Of The Demon - “"It’s in the trees! It’s coming!” - add to the poetry. It depicts love as something vengeful and inevitable, an attacking thing swooping down through the canopy with a terrible hunger.
“Well here I go! It’s coming for me through the trees. Help me, someone! Help me, please!” Surrender is delicious, and the only option. “Take my shoes off. And I will throw them in the lake. And I’ll be. Two steps on the water.”
The horror sample conflicts slightly with the actual lyrical simile of love as a relentless pack of hunting dogs, but nitpicking is churlish.
“I found a fox. Caught by dogs. He let me take him in my hands. His little heart. It beat so fast. And I’m ashamed of running away. From nothing real. I just can’t deal with this. But I’m still afraid to be this. Among your hounds of love. And feel your arms surrounding me. I’ve always been a coward. I never know what’s good for me.”
Probably only Bush could get away with writing a love song depicting her lover as a hunt-ravaged fox, expanding to man-size and reciprocating her embrace as the hounds close in, but in her hands the kill is ferocious.
Cloudbusting is one of a lineage of songs adapted from a book Kate has read (The Shining, Ulysses, Wuthering Heights). It sounds gorgeous. It’s pop song as rising thermal of strings, upon which Kate Bush rides like the strange ghost that she is. As a lyric it’s actually very detailed, but when listening to the song the ear just snags on a handful of heart-catching lyric fragments. When you try and piece them together afterwards, they seem nonsensical but imbued with deep emotion, much like trying to recall the narrative of a dream you’ve woken from and which has left you weighed with a deep intractable mood, but which in waking life seems banal or silly even.
“I still dream of Orgonon. I wake up cryin’. You’re making rain. And you’re just in reach. When you and sleep escape me.”
“I hid my yo-yo. In the garden. I can’t hide you. From the government.”
The song is based on the memoirs of Willhelm Reich’s son, Peter, which recall affection for his eccentric father and documents his persecution at the hands of the authorities. In Cloudbusting’s memorable video, Kate plays Peter in classic panto style, with Donald Sutherland playing Reich - the controversial psychoanalyst and inventor who aimed ‘cloudbuster’ machines at the sky to make rain and who felt that the universe was bounded by a cosmic orgasm known as ‘orgone energy’ (Orgonon was the name of the family’s farm in Maine).
Given the sumptuousness of the piece, it would be an easy goal for a songwriter to use the music as an expression of romantic love. With Kate twisting the piece into a depiction of a child’s love for his father, Cloudbusting achieves many new resonances. It captures brilliantly the point at which a child first begins to doubt their parent, and all the sadness and confusion that engenders. She uses an extreme example - Reich was well-meaning but clearly deluded in the eyes of the adult world, and Peter as a child was hopeless to protect his dad - but by doing so it justifies the dramatic, escalating weather of the music.
Within the urgency of Cloudbusting, and through Bush’s words, Peter Reich becomes an avenging elemental force, desperate to make it rain, in love with the rain because it reminds him of his father.
Willhelm Reich died in prison in 1957. Peter was aged 13.
Hounds of Love as an album title is appropriate, as so many of the themes tie into different forms of love.
The frustration at the disparity in romantic love from Deal With God is reprised in Watching You Watching Me as a ghost story, with Bush as spectre haunting the indifferent lover in her house.
Cloudbusting is preceded immediately by another exaggerated parental love-theme, Mother Stands For Comfort, in which Kate’s mother is the font of a love so strong it will wash away any bad things she does - including, in this case, murder.
Jig Of Life is a weird take on ancestry. Kate approached through the mirror by an old woman who reveals to her that the lines on their hands are the same, and that Kate is the vessel by which the old woman’s memories and lifeforce is kept alive. It isn’t a beautiful story though, the old woman is angry and mad, almost a poltergeist, desperate to live again.
Like all of Kate’s best work, it’s part metaphor, part fable.
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