words by sydney brasil
art by raviya
After a reclusive two years in a studio built in her parent’s barn, Kate Bush released her magnum opus. Her fifth album, Hounds of Love, was the second she self-produced, but her first with full creative autonomy. With this newfound freedom she wrote an album that not only changed pop music, but the way artists perceive themselves. It is an album so emotionally raw it inspired songwriters to take their own risks, both musical and personal. Saying Hounds of Love is a cornerstone of modern pop isn’t a new take, but its relevance thirty-five years later is never attributed to the advice it gives: Stay true to yourself.
It is an album so emotionally raw it inspired songwriters to take their own risks, both musical and personal.
Right before its release in 1985, Bush said in a newsletter to fans that the album was a work of two separate sides. Side A as five loosely linked love songs, and Side B as The Ninth Wave: A concept piece about someone lost at sea, fighting not to drown. Despite their differences musically, they’re linked in many ways. Mostly, by the album’s overall theme of nature. The track names from both sides deal with nature: hills, the sky, ice, the earth, and that’s just the beginning. It’s clear that Kate Bush has a real connection with nature, especially with a whole side of an album being set in a body of water. This connection is why I think she alludes to a witch in the water. Witches are deeply connected to nature because the elements of the earth are so intertwined with their craft. Hounds of Love mimics this divine connection to the point where it’s hard not to feel it yourself while listening.
I remember when Hounds of Love really started resonating with me. I was on vacation in Terceira, an island in the Azores. It’s a place with a strikingly diverse landscape, where volcanic and sandy beaches, forests, hills, and farmland coexist. Since the island is so small, you can see the ocean almost anywhere you look. I could picture this person floating in the water just looking out my window on long drives. I was driving up hills, looking at skies, and most ironically, surrounded by water. Since my home is a metropolis, it was the most connected I’d ever felt to nature. There wasn’t much else I listened to over those two weeks.
While on the subject of being surrounded by water, The Ninth Wave follows a lost person as their inner demons come out through sleep-deprived hallucinations. Natasha Khan of Bat for Lashes has gone as far as to say The Ninth Wave scared her as a kid, despite becoming one of her greatest inspirations. She’s right, it is scary to listen to, but being in touch with the side of yourself that feels fear is what connects you to the swimmer. The scariest song by far being “Waking the Witch”. From the people begging the protagonist to wake up and “pay attention,” to the monster persecuting the swimmer. It’s a non-traditional call and response where the monster is clear, and the swimmer is still clinging to nature nonsensically. The monster clearly says “I question your innocence,” and the girl can’t articulate herself in defence: “Confess to me girl/Red red roses.” It makes you wonder what she has to confess to, as these are the only outside voices the swimmer hears. Since they come from within her hallucinations, maybe their purpose is to tell the swimmer (and the listener) the harsh truths they know about themselves deep down and need to accept.
By relating her struggles to the world around her, Kate Bush is able to better understand her deepest thoughts.
Another example of Hounds of Love exploring those emotional depths is in “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God).” It’s still Bush’s biggest song in North America not only because it’s the perfect pop song, but because its subject matter is so relatable. Lyrically, the song describes how far Bush will go to better understand her loved one. She sums up the song’s meaning when she says in an interview, “Sometimes you can hurt somebody purely accidentally or be afraid to tell them something because you think they might be hurt, when really they’ll understand. So what that song is about is making a deal with God to let two people swap places so they’ll be able to see things from one another’s perspective.” When she sings, “Unaware I’m tearing you asunder/There is thunder in our hearts,” she’s reverting back to nature. By relating her struggles to the world around her, Kate Bush is able to better understand her deepest thoughts.
With an album that intertwines the self and the outer world, Kate Bush inspired a new wave of pop artists to experiment both musically and thematically. This experimentation led to the creation of new sub-genres within the pop realm. Musicians like Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, Lorde, Lady Gaga, FKA Twigs, and St. Vincent say they’re inspired by Bush. In the song “Fetch the Bolt Cutters,” Fiona Apple made her affection for Bush crystal clear: “I grew up in the shoes they told me I could fill/Shoes that were not made for running up that hill/And I need to run up that hill.” Apple follows Bush’s example by being as aware of her influences and emotions as she possibly can be.
By having such a hold on the outcome of contemporary pop, Hounds of Love has become a symbol for the modern musician.
Though all of the aforementioned artists fall under the “pop” category, their fan bases all come from different flares and demographics. These musicians all have one other thing in common: emotional vulnerability. These are artists that critics praise both for their unique aesthetics, and for their ability to be self-aware in the songs they write.
By having such a hold on the outcome of contemporary pop, Hounds of Love has become a symbol for the modern musician. Made without any outside interference, it’s remained relevant in an industry where more and more people are taking full reign on their own projects. The innovation of Bush’s home studio has inspired not only some of pop’s finest, but people who’s only option is to record from home. Though new technologies have made it more accessible over the years, many musicians would be too afraid to even try the DIY approach without examples of great music being made at home. Hounds of Love may be the greatest example of this, as it came out in a time where this wasn’t common practice.
Her awareness of her own emotions forces you to confront your own, even when you’re afraid of what your emotions may be.
Arguably, there’s no other album that has such a seamless blend of musical and emotional impact. The whole album is full of songs that evoke so much emotion by exploring the fleshy underbelly of love. Songs that have the power to make you reflect on your own conflicts, intentions, and fears in love. The things that seduce and draw you in, and the reasons you stay after that initial seduction. It’s an album that makes you analyze the capacity you have to love, even when that love is to a fault. Bush even says herself in the title track “I’ve always been a coward/And I don’t know what’s good for me.” She tells us that the leap of faith into love is worth it, as long as you follow your intuition and stay real with yourself. Her awareness of her own emotions forces you to confront your own, even when you’re afraid of what your emotions may be.
Self-produced, self-composed, and self-aware, Hounds of Love has had just as much of an emotional impact as it has musically. It has a soft spot in countless musicians’ hearts due to its profound awareness of its own sensibilities. It’s a piece of music that is so unapologetically itself. It has changed pop music just by wearing its heart on its sleeve, and convincing others that it’s okay for them to do the same.