In less capable hands 50 Words for Snow could have been a disaster. A ‘seasonal’ album is not something that many artists can pull off, especially as the majority of albums around a ‘winter’ theme are also based around the theme of Christmas (trust me, the day that the The Jethro Tull Christmas Album was announced was the day I knew that Ian Anderson had passed the point of no return). Kate Bush is different though, as regardless of the ravages of time, fashion and outside influences, she always seems to walk away from even the most ‘out there’ projects with both her dignity and integrity intact.
Of course the flip side of this is that Bush finds herself in the envious position of being pretty much beyond criticism. 50 Words for Snow, with its elongated song structures, unnecessary guest appearances (including further scary proof of Stephen Fry’s omnipotence), chilly production and (good lord) a duet between Bush and her own son, could have been a full-on car crash album for Bush, but somehow her own innate good taste and quality control prevents her from ever releasing a truly bad album. There is nothing unconsidered or out of place on 50 Words for Snow, and while this means it lacks a certain sense of spontaneity, that’s not always a bad thing.
Kate Bush, regardless of how many artists have attempted to emulate her ‘kooky art-rock woman’ stylings down the decades, remains utterly unique. She rarely puts a foot wrong in her career and can enjoy regular career breaks without losing her muse. True, every now and again, you’d wish she’d just throw caution to the wind and do something no one expects (my personal preference would be for her to announce surprise release of her covering an album’s worth of Half man Half Biscuit songs, but I’m going to have to admit, that’ll probably never happen), but hey, this is Kate Bush, and she does things in her own time, and her fans just have to respect that.
50 Words for Snow is certainly not Kate Bush’s best album by any stretch of the imagination, but it does underline that even her least impressive albums are still better than most at their very best.