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Kate Bush: 50 Words For Snow

Britpop’s evergreen faerie queen lets England flake.

Typical: you wait years for a new Kate Bush album, then two come along at once. Revitalised by her archive makeover project Director’s Cut, the 53-year-old art-rock icon returns with this expansive and confident wintry symphony.

Bush’s last original album, Aerial in 2005, was rapturously received but leaned dangerously far into overly polished, Peter Gabriel-style ambi-rock maturity. Thankfully, 50 Words For Snow is a more supple and experimental affair, with a contemporary chamber-pop sound grounded in crisp piano, minimal percussion and light-touch electronics.

Of course, old-school Bush fans expecting a return to hook-heavy witch-pop sensuality will be disappointed. These compositions, none below seven minutes long, unravel into billowing jazz-rock soundscapes interwoven with fragmentary narratives delivered in a range of voices, from shrill trilling to Laurie Anderson-style cooing.

Elton John duets warmly on Snowed In At Wheeler Street, a soulful fairy tale of New York, while Stephen Fry shares the title track, a whimsical Floydian folly and arguably the only failed experiment here.

Most strikingly, instead of revisiting her 1970s prog-pop roots, Bush seems to tap a 21st century vein of pastoral Englishness that chimes with recent avant-folk excursions by Polly Harvey and Radiohead.

The snow queen of Albion’s Electric Eden is back to reclaim her throne.

Stephen Dalton has been writing about all things rock for more than 30 years, starting in the late Eighties at the New Musical Express (RIP) when it was still an annoyingly pompous analogue weekly paper printed on dead trees and sold in actual physical shops. For the last decade or so he has been a regular contributor to Classic Rock magazine. He has also written about music and film for Uncut, Vox, Prog, The Quietus, Electronic Sound, Rolling Stone, The Times, The London Evening Standard, Wallpaper, The Film Verdict, Sight and Sound, The Hollywood Reporter and others, including some even more disreputable publications.