At long last, the full-fledged creative return of Kate Bush, whose albums since The Dreaming (1982) and Hounds of Love (1985) — the former a progressive-rock masterpiece, the latter not far behind — have only hinted at that earlier brilliance. 50 Words for Snow is nothing like those two albums; the wild vocal flights and rhythmic outbursts are missing. Yet it operates in a similarly enchanted realm, while proving that a 65-minute album that never breaks into a fast tempo can be perfectly mesmerizing. It is indeed a concept album about snow, but no sleigh rides here: Snowmen figure as romantic leads (and, yes, sexual partners) in two songs, and the opening “Snowflake” sports the arresting image of a flake seeking to land on its beloved’s neck. In other words, Kate is completely back in the sensual world. Yet it’s the haunting beauty of her melodies that brings out the mood, which is mostly the foreboding, romantic one she has favored ever since “Wuthering Heights.” And those melodies unfold slowly, in songs ranging from 7 to 13 minutes. As for her vocals, listen to the title track — which would be an uncharacteristic joke if not for the lovely chorus hook — and tell me the last time anyone got so much nuance out of a count to 50.
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