By A’Lexus Murphy
Listening to the first minute of opening track “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” on Kate Bush’s 1985 album Hounds of Love, it’s easy to write the entire album off as your typical pop creation of the decade. The first track has the sound that any of us with parents who grew up in the 80s may be familiar with due to their constant replaying of the sounds of their youth. If that’s what you’re looking for, keep listening, as you’ve found an album that not only perfectly encases the sound of the decade but also is part of the foundation for many of the pop albums that came after it. Even if you’re not too into synth pop from the 80s, I encourage you to give this album a chance—if not for the chilling vocals and before-its-time experimentation with background vocals and production, then simply because this is one of the landmark albums that defined what pop would be for years after.
Track One: Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)
As mentioned before, this intro track is the classic 80s pop song, so much so that it sounds like it could have easily been a part of the original soundtrack of “The Breakfast Club.” In fact, for what it’s worth, the album was actually released the same year as the movie, which I would say speaks to just how iconic 80s pop is. The sound is so easily recognizable, for better or for worse, it can sometimes lead to easily confusing one song from the era with another. However, I would argue that there are a couple of small but striking differences in this song that make it stand out. The buildup at the beginning is slow yet stunning, making it impossible not to recognize the song within moments. And if it isn’t the buildup that lights up the bulb of recognition in your mind, it’s definitely the clear, strong vocals of Kate Bush. It’s somewhere between the pure vocals of a pop singer and the grungy, throaty vocals of a rock singer. This could have a lot to do with the fact that her early music was more so teenage rock, and this song, along with a couple others on the album, was mostly meant to appeal to the popular sound at the time. However, as much as the song played along with the norms of the typical pop sound in the 80s, it’s impossible not to hear the rock influences in the background. These influences are clear in everything from the riveting electric guitar riffs to the grunge in her voice as she hits key points in the iconic chorus. As much as it is easy to label this song just another 80s pop number, the fact that it’s still considered one of her top songs and is one of the most successful songs to come out of the era can’t be ignored, and that alone should warrant respect from any listener.
Track Two: Hounds of Love
Yet another boppy, lively song from her album, I would say that there are two important elements to take in when listening to this song specifically: the amazing drums and the simply astonishing lyrics. The drums in this song are the basis for an iconic beat, one that may be stuck in your head for hours on end (I can vouch for this since the beat was stuck in my head for at least two hours while I was prepping for this album review). However, what’s not to admire about a song that’s so catchy it literally lingers in your mind for hours? If anything, it’s a success on the part of the producers and the singer, being able to create such a song, and I credit the beat of the drums for this. The lyrics, on the other hand, are both clever and completely straightforward. I always tend to admire love songs from the 80s, as there was nothing really to try to decipher about them. “I never know what’s good for me,” “I’ve always been a coward,” “Help me darling, help me please.” Lines like these speak clearly as to what the singer means and what the listener is going to identify with. But in all honesty, while the lyrics in this song are quite clear, if you listen extremely closely you can hear quite a few of the lines that might just fly over your head. For instance, at the beginning, a male’s voice says, “It’s in the trees. It’s coming.” Admittedly, the first couple of times I heard this song I truly just assumed that it was included at the start simply because it sounded cool. But after those few listens, I eventually linked up that entrance line with the title and a couple of other lines in the song. In essence, this song is speaking on the fact that love is wild and uncontrollable, like hounds, and there’s no way of escaping it. It’s wild, it’s free, and it’s relentless. As cheesy as it might seem to be, I can’t help but find it wonderful, and I feel like it’s been a while since we’ve had such cheesy but relatable meanings to songs.
Track Eight: Waking the Witch
Let me just tell you, if you have earphones in, the intro to this song is definitely going to give you a chill. Not because it’s particularly touching, but rather because the song starts with whispered instructions for you to wake up. I think this song is a nice follow up to the last two. Track six puts you to sleep, track seven induces a nightmare, and this track brings you out of that nightmare–albeit it wakes you up somewhat abruptly. It sounds like a mix of a cult meeting recording and a cheesy zombie flick track. That’s not to say it’s bad, because I definitely think that it’s one of the more experimental tracks on the album. It’s unlike anything I’ve heard before, and definitely not similar to any of the other tracks on Hounds of Love. In a way it reminds me of “Thriller” by Michael Jackson in the sense that it has a Halloween-y feeling to it. This is one of the few songs on the album that I could see myself listening to by itself and actually including in one of my playlists. It’s a song that could stand well on its own and is one of my favorites from this entire album. It isn’t as modern as some of the others, and definitely has an 80s sound to it because of the guitar riff in the background, but I think all of the elements come together to create something truly special.
Track Eleven: Hello Earth
This is by far the longest song on the album, going just over six minutes. I’ve always found myself to be conflicted on songs that are like this. On one hand, some songs simply do have messages that deserve that much time and are wonderfully executed, and it feels as if the song passes by way too quickly rather than dragging on. On the other hand, there have been times in which the song seems to just be unnecessarily long, and so what was meant to be artistic and meaningful simply comes off as a bore. In my opinion this song is fits into the former category. I never felt as if it was dragging on, and I hung onto every second of it. It’s gorgeous yet mysterious at the same time. Bush’s vocals shine through in this song more than any other. I was hesitant at first to choose a favorite song on this album, but I’m going to say that this song is most likely my favorite. It’s rare for the longest song on an album to be one of my favorites, but this song holds a sound that simply stands out from the others on the album. Admittedly there isn’t a whole lot of singing on this song in comparison to the others, but the period that Bush is singing is simply breathtaking–not to mention I’m a sucker for extremely mystical songs, and this song embodies that sound completely. I can understand that this may not be the song for everyone. There’s something relaxing to it, and it’s sort of unexpected as the next to last song on the album. Compared to the last song on the track, it seems to be the odd one out, but sometimes the odd one out is the best one.
In all, I think Hounds of Love is one of those albums that has some songs that just aren’t attractive to a particular listener. However, considering how well it was created, Bush’s amazing vocals, and just how big of a mark it left in pop and the music industry as a whole, it’s impossible to write this album off as anything but a work of art. Would I give this album a listen again? For sure. I think there are several songs on here that I find amazing, in every meaning of the word. It’s not my favorite album of all time, but I think it’s the type of album that everyone should give a try at least once, as it warrants that level of respect.