The Riff
Published in

The Riff

Hounds of Love by Kate Bush | Album Review

Kate Bush creates a timeless classic with an A side of hits and a B side that takes you through a journey stranded at sea.

Kate Bush was coming off an experimental high, having produced her 1982 album The Dreaming.

While not as successful as its predecessors, it would be a catalyst for the creative force that would culminate into her 1985 magnum opus, Hounds of Love. Due to the more abstract structures presented in The Dreaming, Bush would begin to see some pushback in her creative endeavors:

“I think it was probably the most difficult stage I’ve been at so far. Because The Dreaming, the album before… I’d never produced an album before that one. And because it had a lot of unfavorable attention from some people, I think it was felt that me producing Hounds of Love wasn’t such a good idea. And for the first time I felt I was actually meeting resistance artistically…And I was very pleased with myself that, no, it didn’t matter as much as making a good album. So we started Hounds of Love in our own studio, and I started to find out an awful lot of things that I wouldn’t have realized otherwise... So, here I was in a situation of having as much creative control, really, as I could ever ask for.” — Kate on Radio One interviewed by Richard Skinner (1992)

What came out of this setup was her most evocative and impressive recording to date.

By now, due to its use in the Netflix series Stranger Things, many across generations are familiar with the phenomenal “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God).” Kate would mix rushing percussion with the glow and expanse of synths and guitars. She would even bring back the Fairlight sampler to add glass-smashing samples on the album’s second half.

Bush’s apt for theatrics and storytelling come together magically on both sides of the record. I have decided to split this review into the album's two halves. The first half, Hounds of Love, will cover the A side of the record. The second half, The Ninth Wave, will dive into the conceptual section.

Hounds of Love:

Bush hits the ground running with her most recognizable and commanding hit, “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God).” Originally Kate wanted to title the song “A Deal With God” but was talked out of this by her record label due to fears that the religious connotation would limit radio play internationally.

Bush takes the point of view of a woman wishing to trade places with her lover so that they could understand her feelings better and vice versa. The song’s bridge, “Let me steal this moment from you now/ Oh, come on, angel/ Come on, come on, darlin’/ Let’s exchange the experience,” clearly displays how she feels this exchange would ease their lives. Between the absolutely massive sounding synths and thunderous percussion, she crafted a song that feels as close to running and pleading as you can get.

It’s no wonder the 2022 use of the track in Stranger Things saw a resurgence of popularity (and a number 1 in the U.K. and top 5 hit in the U.S.). The video to the song furthers this frustration and desire through Bush’s expert interpretive dance.

The following track, “Hounds of Love,” continues the eruptive emotional tone through the use of strings, synths, and driving percussion. Unlike the running tone of the first track, the title track feels more like you’re being chased down. She opens the song with a sample from the movie Night of the Demon that completely sets the scene.

Bush conveys this feeling well when discussing the track:

“When I was writing the song I sorta started coming across this line about hounds and I thought ‘hounds of love’ and the whole idea of being chasing by this love that actually gonna… when it get you it just going to rip you to pieces, you know, and have your guts all over the floor! So this very sort of… being hunted by love, I liked the imagery, I thought it was really good.”

When the chorus breaks forth, you feel like you are running for your life from the hungry teeth of love’s bite. Kate beautifully displays her fear of falling back in through the cowardice she shows in the second verse, “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/ I’m still afraid to be there.

By far the largest sounding song on the entire record in the aptly titled “The Big Sky.” Using Bush’s synths alongside the percussion and jet samples makes it feel like you are high up in the air soaring around. It completely envelopes you. There is a youthful touch to how Bush falls back into the wonder of staring at the sky and picking shapes out of the clouds.

“That was really about… you watch the clouds long enough, they take on different shapes, you can see dinosaurs in them, or castles. And at the time I was writing this album, we were living in the country and my keyboards and stuff were in this room overlooking a valley and I’d sit and watch the clouds rolling up the hill towards me. And there is a lot of weather on this album.”

Kate deals heavily with the ideas of change here. A large part seems to be the changing tides in a relationship where one partner’s imaginative side shows how they were never truly understood by the other. She even references the biblical flood, “This cloud, this cloud/ Says ‘Noah/ Come on, build me an Ark/And if you’re coming, jump’,” which also seems like a harbinger of the end of a relationship and a rebirth of Bush.

Bush takes a more solemn tone with “Mother Stands For Comfort.” She takes an otherworldly ominous tone through the use of spacey synth samples, thick bass lines, and the shattering of glass samples taken from the Fairlight against her melancholy piano melody.

This rather warped sound reflects the complexity of a mother’s love and protection. The implication here is that her child has committed some terrible crime, and now the mother feels the need to protect her child from the law, “Mother stands for comfort/ Mother will hide the murderer/ Mother hides the madman/ Mother will stay mum.” It’s a very interesting dichotomy that Kate has written about.

You get a sense that the child knows that the mother will shield them, so they do not need to fear.

The final song of this side of the album is the baroque/chamber pop-inspired “Cloudbusting.” Bush took inspiration for the song from Peter Reich’s 1973 memoir A Book of Dreams.

The flutter of strings and almost chant-like backing vocals of Bush make for a rather epic affair as she weaves the tale of Peter and Wilhelm Reich’s relationship. She alludes to many aspects of Wilhelm’s bizarre habits (such as his wariness of fluorescent materials and his theories on harvesting energy to make rain).

One of the touching aspects is the reverence that Bush gives his son, Peter, for his father in the song, “‘Cause every time it rains/ You’re here in my head/ Like the sun coming out/ Ooh, I just know that something good is gonna happen/ I don’t know when/ But just saying it could even make it happen.”

This song is probably the second-best track off the album's first half.

The Ninth Wave:

Bush takes a completely different path on the second half of the record. We completely abandon the themes and sound of our A side to follow a woman who is lost at sea waiting to be rescued.

“I started off writing, I think, “Running Up That Hill”, “Hounds of Love”, and then I think probably “Dream of Sheep.” And once I wrote that, that was it, that was the beginning of what then became the concept. And really, for me, from the beginning, The Ninth Wave was a film, that’s how I thought of it. It’s the idea of this person being in the water, how they’ve got there, we don’t know. But the idea is that they’ve been on a ship and they’ve been washed over the side so they’re alone in this water. And I find that horrific imagery, the thought of being completely alone in all this water. And they’ve got a life jacket with a little light so that if anyone should be traveling at night they’ll see the light and know they’re there. And they’re absolutely terrified, and they’re completely alone at the mercy of their imagination, which again I personally find such a terrifying thing, the power of ones own imagination being let loose on something like that. And the idea that they’ve got it in their head that they mustn’t fall asleep, because if you fall asleep when you’re in the water, I’ve heard that you roll over and so you drown, so they’re trying to keep themselves awake.”

Kate on Radio One interviewed by Richard Skinner (1992)

This concept, as described above, follows this woman as she struggles to stay awake, hoping a plane will find her in the ocean. Bush takes us through the various psychological warfare she faces as she fades in and out of consciousness in the ocean, awaiting her rescue.

The Ninth Wave opens with the stark “And Dream of Sheep.” Kate creates this vast emptiness throughout this song as her languid piano playing almost rocks you like the open waves. There is such frigid desperation to her performance as she sings, “Ooh, I’ll wake up to any sound of engines/ Every gull a seeking craft/I can’t keep my eyes open/ Wish I had my radio.” You are vividly placed with Bush in these cold waters as she tries to desperately distract herself from falling asleep and either drowning or succumbing to hypothermia.

The gentle whistles and the imagery of sheep in the field almost lull us to sleep in the same way our main character has started to fall off into unconsciousness. Kate recorded a video of the song for her live play for of The Ninth Wave and A Sky of Honey (Before the Dawn) in 2014. This provides even more context to the song nearly 30 years later.

This song seamlessly transitions into the colder, desolate “Under Ice.” By now, we have drifted off to sleep and are abruptly in this desolate yet ominous icy world.

“Well at this point, although they didn’t want to go to sleep, of course they do. And this is the dream, and it’s really meant to be quite nightmarish…Again it’s very lonely, it’s terribly lonely, they’re all alone on like this frozen lake. And at the end of it, it’s the idea of seeing themselves under the ice in the river, so I mean we’re talking real nightmare stuff here. And at this point, when they say, you know, ‘my god, it’s me,’ you know, ‘it’s me under the ice. Ahhhh’…”

Kate on Radio One interviewed by Richard Skinner (1992)

The Fairlight cello sample gives such an icy feeling as Bush creeps in an ever-growing threatening feeling to the sound. This purgatory-like winter landscape quickly devolves into terror as the calm embrace of ice skating is shattered by the visage of her drowning under the ice, “There’s something/ moving under/ Under the ice/ Moving under ice/ Through water/ Trying to/ It’s me/ Get out of the cold water/ It’s me.”

Her mind seems to snap her awake as she starts to sink under the waves.

This frigid, terrifying dream state is shattered and reformed by the following track, “Waking the Witch.” The song opens with numerous voices asking our stranded protagonist to wake from her slumber. The piano flowing through this opening adds a brightness that is immediately shattered by Bush’s echoing, warped voice.

“These sort of visitors come to wake them up, to bring them out of this dream so that they don’t drown…I think it’s very interesting the whole concept of witch-hunting and the fear of women’s power. In a way it’s very sexist behavior, and I feel that female intuition and instincts are very strong, and are still put down, really. And in this song, this women is being persecuted by the witch-hunter and the whole jury, although she’s committed no crime, and they’re trying to push her under the water to see if she’ll sink or float.”

Kate on Radio One interviewed by Richard Skinner (1992)

Bush uses this imagery to take this woman through the past, present, and future. “Waking the Witch” symbolizes past persecution. These visions of the Salem witch trials — a nod to her position floating on the sea after the shipwreck — bring her mortality and worthiness of survival to mind.

The demented effect of her pleas cut by the judgment of a courtroom sees Bush fighting to survive. We end this hallucination through hypothermia with a cut-in of the rescue team calling out to get out of the water.

We then take this almost ghost-like look at her present on “Watching You Without Me.” There is no real resolution of the melody. The samples and tones from the Fairlight ricochet off this invisible wall, giving the song tightness and a floaty feeling.

In this limbo, Bush appears to her family, unable to speak to them or be seen. She’s unless to watch them wait and worry, “You watch the clock move the slow hand/ I should have been home hours ago/ But I’m not here.” Again the ghastly jittered cries Bush released in “Waking the Witch” are repeated again here, only now more desolate and terrifying as they don’t hear a thing.

The Celtic-driven “Jig of Life” is a visit from her future self. This is a personal favorite of this section. Its determined tone and lively tempo shake you to move.

In this context, it’s an elderly version of Bush commanding her to fight and live so that she may have this future, “‘Never, never say goodbye/ To my part of your life.’/ No, no, no, no-no’ Oh, let me live/ She said, ‘C’mon and let me live, girl.’

“At this point in the story, it’s the future self of this person coming to visit them to give them a bit of help here. I mean, it’s about time they have a bit of help. So it’s their future self saying, ‘look,’ you know, ‘don’t give up, you’ve got to stay alive, ’cause if you don’t stay alive, that means I don’t.’ You know, and ‘I’m alive, I’ve had kids. I’ve been through years and years of life, so you have to survive, you mustn’t give up.’”

The song bursts into an instrumental jig by the second half. This moment is meant to give Bush the strength to push forward. The ending portion, spoken by John Carter Bush, acts as a sort of monologue of empowerment for her to survive.

Another breathtaking song is the haunting “Hello Earth.” The song is absolutely massive sounding. The Georgian Chant, choir, synths, and sample of a rocket ship taking off make for this all-seeing view of the world below.

At this point, Bush’s character is at her weakest nearly succumbed to hypothermia. There is only the faded tone of her own psyche and the rescue copter crying out to save her as she takes more of a dreamy look at the world below her, “All life-savers/ Get out of the waves, get out of the water!/ All you cruisers/ Get out of the waves, get out of the water!/ All you fishermen head for home/ Go to sleep, little Earth.”

After the second chorus of astronomical Gregorian chants, we end the song with descending melody into submarine sounds as she whispers, “Tiefer, tiefer/ Irgendwo in der Tiefe/ Gibt es ein Licht (Deeper, deeper, somewhere in the depth there is a light)/ Go to sleep, little Earth.” This moment her being debated as either her death or sinking off to sleep as she is rescued.

Bush ends the album on a very bright note with “The Morning Fog.” In Kate’s own words, our female protagonist survives this harrowing adventure:

“Well, that’s really meant to be the rescue of the whole situation, where now suddenly out of all this darkness and weight comes light. You know, the weightiness is gone and here’s the morning, and it’s meant to feel very positive and bright and uplifting from the rest of dense, darkness of the previous track. And although it doesn’t say so, in my mind this was the song where they were rescued, where they get pulled out of the water. And it’s very much a song of seeing perspective, of really, you know, of being so grateful for everything that you have, that you’re never grateful of in ordinary life because you just abuse it totally. And it was also meant to be one of those kind of ‘thank you and goodnight’ songs.”

It’s warm acoustics and comforting tone allows us to breathe again after facing such a taxing psychological journey.

It is through her near-death experience that she has gathered a new respect for her loved ones and life itself, “I’m falling/ And I’d love to hold you now/ I’ll kiss the ground/ I’ll tell my mother/ I’ll tell my father/ I’ll tell my loved ones/ I’ll tell my brothers/ How much I love them.”

Some fans have argued that this song is her spirit looking back at her life and taking the lessons from this life to the next.

Overall, this record is really a masterpiece. I have listened to the Hounds of Love front and back on numerous occasions and never get tired of the stories and soundscapes Bush has created. This is the pinnacle of her artistry. Each pop tune on the first side of the album engrosses you from the moment you hit play, and the story she creates on The Ninth Wave is executed masterfully.

Few artists could go from traditional to conceptual without it feeling pretentious or taxing, but Kate worked her alchemy here. Now, a whole new generation knows of her commanding voice and poetry through Stranger Things. Bush even put on a stage play of The Ninth Wave and Aerials A Sky of Honey in 2014, releasing a live album titled Before of Dawn to coincide with the project (it was also recorded but never received a DVD/Blu-ray release).

If you liked “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” or want to hear a truly influential masterpiece, listen to this record.

My favorites:

  • “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)
  • Hounds of Love
  • The Big Sky
  • Cloudbusting
  • And Dream of Sheep
  • Jig of Life

My overall rating: 10 out of 10.



Medium’s premier music publication

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Z-side's Music Reviews

Welcome to my personal blog. This is a place where I discuss any of my musical finds or faves. Drop in and have a listen.