Collin Kelley on Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love


I’ve gotten some great essays back from people about albums they love to listen to straight through, and I’ll start posting them throughout the week.

If you want to participate, there’s still time! Send your essay to me.

First up:

Hounds of Love – Kate Bush
By Collin Kelley

I succumbed to the digital age of music more than a decade ago. In the late 90s, I reveled in the illegal glory of Napster and Limewire, filling endless numbers of blank CDs with favorite songs and albums. I’ve since moved on to legal downloading thanks to iTunes, but I still have a soft spot for vinyl records and CDs. If it’s an artist I truly love and support, I will buy the physical record – sometimes in multiple formats. Kate Bush is one of those artists.

I discovered Kate in 1981 after I snuck into the living room one Friday night to watch the old Night Flight show, a precursor to MTV and one of the few places you could actually see music videos. Kate was already a cult favorite in the US, but was a star of Lady Gaga-type proportions in her native UK and across Europe. Thirty years later, that cult status remains. Kate’s literary and cinematic pop has never caught on in America, which is both a shame and a blessing.

When Kate somersaulted across my television screen, causing the vertical hold to roll along with her, in the video for “Wuthering Heights,” I was hooked. Her music has become as much an inspiration to me as any poet or writer. Kate’s 1985 album Hounds of Love is not only my favorite of her albums, but my favorite album by any artist. Ever.

The first single from Hounds of Love was the urgent and stirring “Running Up That Hill,” and I bought the vinyl single and nearly drove my parents up the wall playing it on the stereo. The photo of Kate holding an archer’s bow with the lyrics written across her arms and back is still one of the most arresting images in music. The lyrics still have the power to thrill and chill:

You don’t want to hurt me,
But see how deep the bullet lies.
Unaware, I’m tearing you asunder.
There is thunder in our hearts.
Is there so much hate for the ones who love?
Tell me we both matter don’t we?

When I finally got my hand on the album, I listened to it from start to finish. Over and over and over. Hounds of Love is not an album you can snatch a few songs from, but must be listened to as a whole for it to reveal its motivation and majesty.

On the vinyl version – and you really should listen to it on vinyl for the warm, rich sound – the album is divided into two halves: Hounds of Love and The Ninth Wave. The Hounds side contains “Running Up That Hill” and a clutch of Kate’s well-known songs – “Cloudbusting,” “The Big Sky” and the title track.

But it’s The Ninth Wave conceptual song cycle, where Kate takes on the voice of a person hovering between life and death after an accident at sea, that cements her reputation not only as a musician, but a storyteller. Discordant voices rise and fall and helicopters buzz as the nightmare of being trapped under ice gives way to hallucinations and, eventually, leaving the body to hover over Earth with the satellites. The gem is “Watching You Without Me,” where the drowning woman’s spirit goes home to see her husband/lover one last time:

You watch the clock
move the slow hand
I should have been home
hours ago, but I’m not here…

The vocal track moves backwards and forwards, devolves into nonsense as her soul prepares to move onward. It’s heartbreakingly beautiful.

When I sit down to write, Hounds of Love invariably finds its way onto my stereo. For me, it’s a ritual: removing the record from the sleeve, putting it on the turntable and setting the needle onto the vinyl followed by the satisfying moment of crackle and hiss before the opening synth line of “Running Up That Hill” fades in. Hounds of Love is still the only album that transports me to a different place every time I listen to it. That’s the power of timeless lyrics and music.

Collin Kelley is the author of the novels Conquering Venus and the forthcoming Remain in Light. His poetry collections include Better to Travel, After the Poison, and Slow to Burn, which is being reissued in August by Seven Kitchens Press.

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