24 June 2016

CUT!

The following is a message to filmmakers: not every film needs to be arse-numbingly long. Don't be so fucking precious. Learn to edit, and have the integrity to trim some of your crap. The most recent offender is Zack Snyder's much-awaited Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. The theatrical version alone is a shade over two and a half hours long. The upcoming DVD and Blu-ray release adds another half an hour to that already-lumbering runtime.

I'm part of the apparent minority who enjoyed the film, but even as somebody who's been wanting to see Batman cave Superman's face in on the silver screen for years, I found myself nodding off midway through, even in an IMAX screen with sound levels approaching those of a Motörhead gig. The last time I found myself napping in the cinema was during 2000's George Clooney crap-a-rama The Perfect Storm. During the titular storm. Not a good sign, Mr Snyder.
C. Montgomery Burns there, struggling to stay awake during
Jesse Eisenberg's excruciating performance as "Lex Luthor"
Excessive length is a problem with a lot of movies these days, even children's movies, but the most noticeable offenders seem to be adult comedies from the last ten to fifteen years. Superbad, for example, at 113 minutes, is only five minutes shorter than the classic labyrinthine thriller The Silence of the Lambs. I actually enjoy Superbad, but why the hell anybody needs nearly two full hours to tell a story about two dorks trying to get laid is beyond me. And even as a fan of the movie, I stop laughing after that 90-minute mark. Anything over that is just too goddamned long for a comedy.

David and Jerry Zucker's pant-pissingly funny disaster spoof Airplane! is the standard for comedy as far as I'm concerned, and that's a mere 88 minutes long. If you think you're funnier than Airplane!, then not only are you wrong, but by Lemmy you'd better be able to fit a near-equal amount of gags into that amount of time. Good ones. Mel Brooks' racism-punching western parody Blazing Saddles is 95 minutes long, and there's about eight seconds of it that aren't so funny you'll rupture your spleen.
"In the future, comedies will be two hours long? Surely you can't be serious."
"I am serious. And don't call me Shirley."
Anyway, the point of this seminar is: filmmakers of every genre need to reel it in. You're not Francis Ford Coppola, and your film isn't Apocalypse Now. Make long films if the subject matter or the actors merit it: parts one and two of The Godfather, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, anything with Daniel Day-Lewis. But I'm so fucking tired of having to give up entire nights if I want to watch a regular film. That pointless Judd Apatow piece of shit Knocked Up is ten minutes longer than the final cut of Ridley Scott's existential sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner, for fuck's sake. Bridesmaids, Paul Feig's gender-swap of brainless bro-down The Hangover, is twenty minutes longer than The Terminator. Do these people have to release every frame they film?

Honestly, I blame Judd Apatow for this shit. Fine, let your actors improvise. But don't cave to their egos and include every last gag they tell. Not even George Carlin hit the mark every time—I never personally cared for his "The kind of fart whereby the Centers for Disease Control declares your pants a level five biohazard" crack; seems too lowbrow for me.

The unrated cut of Judd Apatow's The 40-Year Old Virgin is only ten minutes shorter than Stanley Kubrick's nightmarish Stephen King adaptation The Shining. Why? A pointless, excruciating song-and-dance number. Kubrick, the legendary auteur, extended his film's runtime with eerie silences and lingering, unsettling shots of what has come to be known as the Kubrick Stare.
Top: absolutely vital
Bottom: completely and utterly pointless
Judd Apatow, meanwhile, decided that none of us could do without a nipple-hardeningly embarrassing performance of a song from the hippie musical Hair, performed by some of the most irritating leading lights of 21st century American comedy. In addition to cutting some of the improv, you may decrease your film's runtime by not being so fucking arrogant as to think we care about your secret wish to be Busby Berkeley.

This has gotten off-track. As the aforementioned George Carlin said, I have no ending for this, so I take a small bow.

21 April 2016

THE WORLD JUST LOST A WONDER

Treat her for just who she was: a trailblazing icon
Joanie Laurer, better known as Chyna, professional wrestling's "9th Wonder of the World", has died at the age of 45. In the coming days and weeks you'll see a lot of pieces from mainstream news sources about how her post-wrestling career overshadowed her work in the then-WWF, but I'm not here to moralise or pass judgement on a woman whose body isn't even cold yet. I'm here to talk about, to use a phrase beloved of WWE commentary legend Jim Ross, "what brought her to the dance": her career in and around the wrestling ring.

Chyna was a true cornerstone of the fabled Attitude Era. Trust me, I lived through it. She was all over the place. Every new merchandising venture the company made, the faces involved were always Stone Cold, the Rock, the Undertaker and Chyna. Not Triple H, not Mankind, not Kane, certainly not that vacant airhead Sable, but Chyna. And it seemed completely natural. It was meant to be. Here were all these powerful badass characters, and of course, there was a powerful badass woman with them. The way it should have been.

If it wasn't for Chyna standing there like an intimidating badass, the first run of the notorious* stable D-Generation X would have been truly awful, just Triple H and Shawn Michaels standing around making dick jokes to a crowd of baying idiots. Chyna, simply by standing behind the two jocks with a stoic look on her face, gave the group depth and mystery when it could so easily have been a boys' club that was even more cringeworthy than the nWo.

When the WWF started letting Chyna show some personality was, for me, when the stable started to actually be entertaining. Remember when DX played strip poker on Raw, and Chyna was cleaning up? She was genuinely entertaining despite remaining completely silent and keeping all her clothes on. That's how you build a character without having her say a word.
Notice how Chyna's standing at the forefront of D-Generation X?
It's because she was more interesting than the high school jocks behind her
During the second DX run that began after Shawn Michaels' first retirement followingWrestleMania XIV, Chyna was once again the best part of it. Look back: the guys in DX were all sophomoric meatheads. Triple H had the same tired dick jokes ("the cock-pit!") and a catchphrase he stole off that joker Michael Buffer; Road Dogg had the same speech he made every night plus what seemed to be a nervous tic brought on by a poor performance in a childhood spelling bee; X-Pac just yelled for the crowd to "make some noise," laughed at Hunter's jokes and called other men bitches, and Billy Gunn had a great physique but some of the worst mic skills I've ever heard in wrestling. Chyna, meanwhile, didn't have to do anything to be interesting and memorable. She was distant and different.

One of the most genuinely shocking moments of the Attitude Era was when she turned on Triple H in early 1999 and joined Vince McMahon's nefarious Corporation: a true "holy shit!" heel turn that was handled far better than even "Stone Cold" Steve Austin's in 2001. I was gutted. Then when she and Triple H seemingly got back together a few months later at WrestleMania XV, I was overjoyed... then crushed again later in the night when they both joined the Corporation. Apart from Owen Hart kicking his brother Bret's leg out of his leg** in late 1993, it was the first heel turn that actually affected me.
Chyna defeats Jeff Jarrett for the Intercontinental Championship
at WWF's No Mercy pay-per-view, October 1999
All this doesn't even go into the way she broke down boundaries for women in wrestling: winning the Intercontinental title, and being the first female entrant into the Royal Rumble and the King of the Ring tournament. She was a trailblazer, an icon. And none of it seemed like a marketing gimmick or anything like it, it seemed perfectly natural. "Chyna's wrestling for the IC belt? Cool!" I remember being legitimately disappointed when she lost it, principally because that opened the door for Chris Benoit to start wrestling for it, and at the time—unpopular opinion alert—Benoit bored my arse off.

Remember that this was at a time where women's wrestling was seen as an excuse to go for a piss, or for the horny teenage boys in the audience to fill up their spank banks for the next few months. Evening gown matches and bikini contests and promos that amounted to nothing more than the arcade game Cat Fight from The Simpsons. As Kefin Mahon from the Attitude Era Podcast put it, the air was thick with phrases like "Your hair is a bitch! Your fingernails are sluts!" Absolutely terrible. But despite that, you had Chyna kicking men's asses and proving that yes, women do belong in the squared circle. Fifteen years later, we're seeing the fruits of the seeds Chyna sowed, as women like Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Bayley and Charlotte have proven to be legitimately more entertaining and over with the fans than most of the male talent on WWE's roster.
Chyna and Eddie gave us some of the most
memorable moments of the entire Attitude Era.
However, Chyna losing the Intercontinental title did open the door for her run with Eddie Guerrero, and while a case can be made (particularly on-air by Jim Ross) that Eddie set back Hispanic-American relations by a number of decades, it was truly entertaining TV, and to see Chyna smile was wonderful, especially in hindsight, knowing what was going on backstage between Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. Mention Eddie's name to people, and a lot of them will come out with "Mamacita!" Remember that it was this angle that gave Eddie his famous nickname, Latino Heat. Arguably it was his association with Chyna that got Eddie over in the WWF, because the fans back then couldn't have given a stuff how good somebody was in the ring: if you weren't entertaining, they didn't care. And Eddie and Chyna were entertaining in every sense of the word.

I always hoped WWE would cut the bullshit moralising regarding Chyna's post-wrestling career, and induct her into the Hall of Fame. What, Hall of Famer Jimmy Snuka murdering his girlfriend isn't as bad as pornography? Hall of Famer Hulk Hogan saying he doesn't want his daughter dating a "fucking nigger" isn't as bad as pornography? Hall of Famer*** Donald Trump proposing the banning of 1.6 billion people from the "Land of the Free" and labelling an entire nation's inhabitants as drug dealers and rapists isn't as bad as pornography? Get the fuck out of my office.

I guess things like that prove that it really is just Stephanie McMahon's pettiness that kept her out of the Hall of Fame. Seems like vindictiveness is a McMahon family trait. And I must say, as Stephanie can reasonably be accused of directly causing Chyna's downward spiral, it kind of sickens me that she's all PR sympathy now. "Tragic news," my arse. A sense of relief is more like it.

So today, whatever you do, make sure you pay tribute to Chyna: punch somebody in the balls.

Goodbye, Joanie. I hope you find the happiness in death that seemed to elude you in life.
JOANIE "CHYNA" LAURER
1969-2016
* Though nowhere near as notorious as WWE's revisionist history would have you believe
** Right, Owen? Post-match interviews: always a bad idea
*** I well and truly wish I was joking. "Celebrity Wing", my arse

27 July 2015

IRON MAIDEN WANTS YOU FOR DEAD

IRON MAIDEN - IRON MAIDEN
EMI, 1980

Probably the ugliest Eddie's ever looked
In 1980, heavy music was in a state of flux. Black Sabbath had kicked out Ozzy Osbourne the year before, Led Zeppelin were creaking to a halt due to the faltering health of drummer John Bonham, AC/DC's rogueish frontman Bon Scott had died that February, and the punk rock explosion of the late seventies had changed perceptions of what rock music was supposed to be. The prevailing wisdom, that of larger-than-life, dumber-than-rocks songs about girls and cars and drugs, had been shown up as intellectually stunted, and people wanted more from their rock n' roll. Courtesy of a few geographically disparate English towns, they were about to get it.

The first rumblings of the clunkily-monikered New Wave of British Heavy Metal came from Judas Priest and Motörhead, two bands with little in common bar loud guitars and leather jackets. While Priest's early albums clung to the lengthy song structures and operatic pretensions of progressive rock bands, Motörhead opted for a more direct approach. Combining the relatively basic song structures of classic rock n' roll with the aggression of heavy metal, their swaggering, snarling, amphetamine-snorting brand of heavy rock was beloved of both punks and rockers, and it was this simplicity that inspired many of the early NWOBHM bands.

Unlike many music scenes which tend to be based around one location (i.e. San Francisco's psychedelic scene of the late '60s, late 1980s Seattle grunge etc), the bands of this nascent scene sprouted up all over the country. Barnsley and Sheffield in South Yorkshire birthed Saxon and Def Leppard, the West Midlands town of Stourbridge was home to Witchfinder General and Diamond Head*, Newcastle offered the cartoon Satanism of Venom, Raven and, blatantly enough, Satan, and London would give us Angel Witch, the "female Motörhead" known as Girlschool**, and Iron Maiden.

Iron Maiden formed in 1975, the brainchild of a prodigiously talented bassist and songwriter named Steve Harris. After several lineup changes and a brief breakup that occupied the next three years, the band (at this point consisting of Harris, guitarist Dave Murray and drummer Doug Sampson) recruited singer Paul Di'Anno and recorded a demo that was lauded in Sounds magazine, quickly selling five thousand copies. In late 1979 a record deal was inked with EMI, and guitarist Dennis Stratton was enlisted to thicken up the band's sound. After replacing Sampson with sticksman Clive Burr (late of Samson), the band recorded two tracks for the Metal for Muthas compilation and hunkered down to record their self-titled debut.

Maiden in 1980. Note Paul Di'Anno's ropey boiler suit.
He probably traded his leather jacket for drugs
The first thing you notice about Iron Maiden is the exuberance of a young band that's excited to be making an album. "Prowler" bristles with a stuttering riff and a yearning wah-wah lead figure, leaping out of the gate as Di'Anno narrates a tale of hiding in the bushes and stalking women. Some punkish harmonies take the song over the top, at once similar and completely unlike those of Maiden's later career. In the hands of another band the subject matter might sound lecherous and seedy, but the aforementioned exuberance gives it a life-affirming air of teenage fantasy. That atmosphere carries on in other tracks from the album as Di'Anno self-mythologises, although not always to such great effect. "Running Free", for example, contains a beat that bears far too much resemblance to the work of noted glam-rock paedophile Gary Glitter***. "Sanctuary" is much the same in that it's a decent enough song, but features a definite punkiness that doesn't suit Maiden and never has.

That same punkiness is something that seems to split the album in two. It seems divided between fairly one-dimensional punk rock songs and lengthy progressive numbers which, while not as immediate as the shorter songs, are the more rewarding in the long run. "Remember Tomorrow", for instance, begins with gently plucked bass chords, gossamer-like guitar chimes and a plaintive melody from Di'Anno, but soon explodes into a series of crescendoes. The labyrinthine structure of this and the album's other epic, "Phantom of the Opera", are clear influences on many of the American thrash bands that would emerge in the next few years, primarily Metallica (who would cover "Remember Tomorrow" in 2008). "Phantom..." also marks the first appearance of the legendary Iron Maiden 'gallop', rendered here as more of a canter. Unfortunately, these same progressive songs highlight Di'Anno's clear deficiencies as a singer. While his enthusiasm is palpable, he simply doesn't have the vocal ability demanded by music like this. Imagine Black Sabbath if fronted by the Clash's Kleenex-voiced guitarist Mick Jones and you've got the right idea.

Throughout their career Maiden have recorded a number of instrumentals, a tradition that began on this album. Sadly, apart from a staccato riff and some fine lead harmonies and solos in the second part, there's not all that much to write home about from "Transylvania". It seems like two song fragments clumsily tacked together, like a cut-and-shut car. Thankfully things pick up towards the end of the album, with "Charlotte the Harlot" and "Iron Maiden" sending the crowd home happy. "Charlotte..." is a paean to a prostitute the band were acquainted with, and despite being home to more of that uncharacteristic punkish style and some truly terrible lyrics courtesy of Dave Murray—the only ones he ever wrote, I believe—it's one of the best tracks on the album. The chorus is irresistible, and even a frankly embarrassing bridge (in which Di'Anno indulges in the myth of 'rescuing' sex workers) can't bring the song down. The title track closes the album, and is one of the most beloved songs of Maiden's entire career, with the chorus exemplifying that singalong campiness so essential to the very best heavy metal. Even some more dodgy lyrics can't change that.

Overall the album is more notable for what followed than for anything it did by itself, though it's not without merit. The main issues with the album are the reedy production, some embarrassing lyrics, and above all, Paul Di'Anno. While he clearly tried his best, he clearly didn't have what it takes to front a band like this, especially not when you think of the vision Steve Harris had in mind. His future reputation as one of heavy metal's premier dickheads doesn't exactly help his case. While dodgy production, lyrics and vocals are issues endemic to most NWOBHM debuts, most of those bands either didn't stick around long enough to do anything else, or never did anything more notable than their first few records. Iron Maiden did, and as a result, this debut suffers greatly, simply by comparison to their later material.

* Who would become more famous for Metallica covering their songs than they ever would on their own
** This description does Girlschool a great disservice, as there was more to their work than mere Motörhead plagiarism
*** Though who was to know in 1980?

17 August 2014

NOTHING EVER CHANGES BUT THE SHOES

This was written the day after Robin Williams' suicide. Like many other people, I live with depression, and to see another one of us fall hit particularly close to home.

THEY ONLY FIND RESPECT FOR YOU
IF YOU GIVE UP THE FIGHT

Sadly, I don't think Robin Williams' death will change anything.

Depression will be a buzz word for a few days on social media, people will say something needs to be done to raise awareness of mental illness, and celebrities will come out in support of anybody living with depression.

Depression took this lovely, wonderfully talented man away from us.
Don't let it take you away from the people who care for you.
And then, probably just before or just after Robin Williams' body is lain to rest, they'll have forgotten all about it, and will go right back to watching Big Brother LXVIII, or the new football season, or whatever other meaningless shit they occupy their minds with to keep themselves from thinking about anything that actually fucking matters.

I don't know what I expect people to do, but I do know that I expect more. In a day and age where we know so much about mental health, I can't believe somebody as beloved as Robin Williams felt he had nobody to turn to, and that's why this insidious disease is so horrible. Even a cancer patient has the will to fight, but depression robs a person of even that.

And to the Daily Mail readers who express shock and, believe it or not, anger that Robin Williams did this "when he had all the money and fame in the world," I can only label you grasping, dreamless ciphers with no poetry or romance in your souls, if you honestly think that money can solve all a person's problems.

As for Robin Williams... well, he can't do any more damage around this popsicle stand. I'm gonna miss him.

19 June 2014

DOESN'T IT BOTHER YOU?

AN OPEN LETTER TO READERS OF
THE SUN "NEWSPAPER"

Dear Sun "readers", 

Doesn't it bother you how the Sun talks down to you?

Doesn't it bother you how the Sun assumes you're a braying moron whose only interest is telly, tits and tackles? Are the football results really all you look for in a paper? Speaking of football...
Just one reason to hate the Sun—as if you needed reminding.
Doesn't it bother you how the Sun habitually prints lies, slander and baseless, incredibly offensive allegations simply to sell papers, then takes a quarter of a century to fart out a half-hearted apology?

Doesn't it bother you how the Sun, as in the example above, insistently uses the word "cops" to describe police officers? I thought the Sun was the last bastion of All Things British. 

Doesn't it bother you how the Sun clearly despises its readership and regards them as one rung above amoebae in the brain department? All you have to do is read the thing for five minutes: it's written in such base, uncomplicated English that even a toddler could understand it... and they market this paper to grown men. I haven't seen such open contempt for one's readers since Mark Twain's Christian Science essay (and that, mark my words, is the only comparison between the Sun and Samuel Clemens you will EVER fucking see)

Doesn't it bother you how the Sun acts like its frothing, barely-disguised racial hatred is, according to them, a perfectly normal English trait?

Doesn't it bother you how the Sun has always made an enemy of trade unions, when it's (sadly) the working men those unions protect that make up the Sun's core audience?

Doesn't it bother you and make you squirm in hot, sticky embarrassment when the Sun refers to the England football team as "our boys", or the British Army as "our lads" (they might be yours but they're not fucking mine)?
Another reason to hate the Sun, because "GOTCHA"
is not an appropriate response to the loss of over 1000 
human lives, regardless of whether there's a war on or not
Doesn't it BOTHER you how the Sun INSISTS on putting RANDOM words in every SENTENCE in COMPLETELY unnecessary BLOCK CAPITALS? (because it DRIVES me up the FUCKING wall)

Doesn't it bother you that, with every page of the Sun you turn, you're adding to the already-ungodly power of Rupert Murdoch, billionaire tyrant and the closest thing this planet has ever come to a real-life Skeletor?

Doesn't it bother you how, despite not even being from this country, the aforementioned billionaire tyrant Rupert Murdoch uses the Sun to influence British politics in his own devious favour?

Doesn't it bother you that you're laying your money down for an oxymoron (that is, a newspaper without news)?

Doesn't it bother you that the Sun is the print equivalent of ITV: written and produced entirely for thick people?
This trash is what passes for news to Murdoch's minions.
And to think: journalism used to be a respectable profession.
Doesn't it bother you that the Sun is Britain's biggest-selling newspaper? And doesn't what that says about Britain bother you even more?

Doesn't it bother you at all?

Let me know, because I just can't understand how this brightly-coloured, anti-intellectual, anti-progress, anti-anybody-who-isn't-white bumwad sells two million copies every month.

Love, Gregg

7 May 2014

I LOVE HORRIBLE NOISE

Last month marked the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain's untimely death. In my relatively short time on this earth I have already been alive longer than he was.

I'm not going to get all sappy here, but Nirvana was the first real rock band I heard and the first I loved (there had been Oasis, yes, but as a youth in northern England in the mid-1990s I was contractually obligated to listen to Oasis. Besides, this was stronger stuff by far). I was eleven years old in autumn 1997, and when I heard "Smells Like Teen Spirit" for the first time, it was like entering a different world.

Terrible American dad-rock embarrassment Bruce Springsteen once described the snare shot that heralds Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" as sounding like somebody had "kicked open the door to your mind", and I could say the same for myself regarding the albatross around Cobain's neck. The moment the guitar's tone distorted, I was changed for life: I had found my brand, so to speak. Having no real disposable income of my own, its parent album Nevermind took the form of a Christmas gift, and the Christmas that was soundtracked by three noisy longhairs with personal hygiene problems was a happy one indeed.

I think Kurt just found out about Miley Cyrus covering "...Teen Spirit".
That Nevermind was packed with great songs was merely a bonus. To me, the disc was less an album, more a sacred artifact: one to be worshipped nightly and heralded as the finest achievement in human history. Indeed, for a long time I had no interest in finding out if there were other albums in the world: I was tragically unhip as a lad. I didn't even know where you'd go to find them. I knew record shops existed, but had no idea where to find them, or indeed if I was worthy to enter them*. Eventually I dove into practically all forms of music with the zeal of a burn victim leaping into a swimming pool filled with ice cream, but for a good few years there I lived and breathed every word Kurt Cobain yelled on that album.

I said earlier that the album changed my life, and I genuinely believe it did. If I had never heard Nevermind, who knows? I could have grown up to be one of those hapless imbeciles who cares more about who they vote for in The X Factor or I'm a Fading Pseudo-Celebrity, Get My Publicist on the Phone than who they vote for in a general election. I could have grown up to be the kind of person who listens to Top 40 radio and believes it. I could have grown up to be the kind of person who doesn't like music but likes the idea of music, and therefore buys three albums a year: Coldplay, Katy Perry and Robbie arsing Williams. Given that I hail from Wigan, where the glory days of the Casino and its effervescent Northern Soul have long since passed, to be replaced by a truly execrable form of dance music called "donk", these are all very real possibilities.

But because of Nirvana and Nevermind, I didn't. And the reason for this goes beyond the 'shock of the new' I experienced, beyond the great songs and beyond even the tired old 'voice of a generation' bumf that probably drove Kurt Cobain to suicide. The reason I didn't grow up into a musically-apathetic, Top 40 radio-listening cow-person is because of a song that isn't even listed anywhere on the album's sleeve.

NSFW

"Endless, Nameless" is a seven-minute noise jam that grew out of a failed attempt at recording future hit single "Lithium", and consists of Nirvana slowly deconstructing the concept of rock music at a volume loud enough to make pregnant women miscarry. It was appended to the album as a hidden track after the first pressing, beginning some ten minutes after the end of morose album closer, "Something in the Way".

The first time I heard the song, it frightened the daylights out of me. Beginning with a pulsing, bassy guitar note and immediately exploding into distortion and pounding drums, I thought there was something wrong with my stereo. Then I thought there was something wrong with my CD. Then I realised something truly remarkable for a kid whose first CD–another Christmas present, natch–was the chart compilation Now That's What I Call Music 35: I was enjoying it. I could hear on-the-fly songcraft, I could pick out a tune through the chaos. And by the end, when Krist Novoselic plays a merry, folksy melody on his bass followed by the song sputtering to a halt like a dying motorcycle... I wanted to hear it again.

I wanted to hear more of what I would later see Lester Bangs describe as "horrible noise", and my ears would never be the same again. From "Endless, Nameless" and Norwegian black metal, through Iggy & The Stooges and Big Black, to free jazz and Metal Machine Music^, I have always found comfort in horrible noise.

And for that, Kurt Cobain, more than anything, I thank you.


* Worthiness and my own perceived lack thereof has been a recurring theme throughout my life
^ One of only one-and-a-half good albums Lou Reed ever made

13 December 2013

DOGS D'AMOUR

KATE BUSH - HOUNDS OF LOVE
EMI, 1985
Lucky dogs.
I've been sitting here for an hour trying to figure out what I can possibly say that would do justice to this utterly spellbinding album. It's an entire world of its own, a law unto itself. Listening to it is like being able to go back and visit your favourite dream at will. For me, it's Kate Bush's single finest artistic statement, feeling as it does like a coherent whole rather than, as with her previous albums, a collection of (admittedly breathtaking) songs. This was intentional on Kate's part, as the album is actually divided into two suites: the first, Hounds of Love, comprises standalone songs, most of which were released as singles, and the second, The Ninth Wave... well, we'll get to that soon enough.

Beginning with "Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)", the tone is set for the rest of the album immediately: lush, densely layered synthesisers, undulating basslines, drums being hit with bigger drums, and soaring above it all, the absolutely wonderful, ethereal vocals of La Bush herself. As with all great art, this song was misinterpreted to an astounding degree upon release. The "deal" spoken of in the title makes its appearance in the chorus:
If I only could, I'd make a deal with God, and I'd get him to swap our places.
This, of course, caused a thousand literal-minded Christians to rend their garments in outrage, believing Kate meant she wished to exchange places with the man upstairs. However, simply paying attention to the rest of the lyrics (i.e. putting the chorus in context) makes it crystal clear that the song is a monologue from one lover to another: she wants God to swap their places so each can experience the act of love from the other's perspective. Such a simple—and beautiful—idea, made even clearer by the song's defining lyric:
Let's exchange the experience.
A different aspect of love is explored in the title track: the fear of the unknown. Of course, Kate Bush being Kate Bush, the concept is couched in metaphor: fox-hunting*, being pursued through a forest by an unseen, unnamed force, and flinging shoes into a lake. Brilliantly, the titular canines are made reference to by an absolutely inspired "Ooh, ooh, ooh" refrain that sounds for all the world like a child's impersonation of a dog's bark. And despite animal impersonations, the almost overwhelming production, and a musical landscape that actually sounds celebratory, Kate's lyrics and her emotional vocal delivery make for one of her most naked, vulnerable performances.

In the three years since her previous album (1982's The Dreaming), Kate built a private 24-track studio near her home, and on "The Big Sky", you'll believe she was determined to use every last one of those tracks. The song is positively overflowing, total sonic saturation of a kind only approached by Type O Negative's similarly-produced October Rust. The song also proves that Kate was capable of beating all those spunky, high-energy women of 1980s pop-rock at their own game: after the self-doubt and fragility of the previous song she sounds ecstatic here, especially with a delightful little "Huh! Huh!" after we "pause for the jet" that I defy you to listen to without smiling. A truly fantastic, joyous, life-affirming song that probably contains the secret of eternal youth.
She might look human, but don't be fooled.
She's better than us. A higher life form.
The wild mood swings continue on the album's most subdued, even foreboding song. "Mother Stands for Comfort" is distinctly unsettling, and I still couldn't tell you 100% what it all means. Part of this is due to Kate's murmured, enigmatic vocal, but part is because a mystery is always more fun than the truth. The soundscape conjures up images of Joy Division at their most harrowing, with a stark, simple drum pattern laid over with eerie synth lines and the percussive sound of breaking glass. However, the elastic bassline and truly beautiful piano give off a very different vibe than that of the Mancunian miserablists: this is far looser than the robotic angst of Curtis and co.

One of Kate's most famous songs closes side one (the 'accessible' side), the crystalline "Cloudbusting". Inspired by psychologist Wilhelm Reich, the song manages the same sort of emotional syncopation as in "Hounds of Love", with an incredibly sad story told by way of an almost triumphant instrumental track. Propelled by an insistent, martial beat and an instantly memorable string motif, the different layers of sound build and build in a manner not dissimilar to industrial music: that 24-track studio proving a sound investment once again. Ponder how Kate Bush, a then-26 year old woman, could be so moved by the unfair treatment of an elderly man—who died before she was even born—that she could sound near tears as she sang this wonderful piece of music†.

And now we enter The Ninth Wave, a miniature concept album centred on, as Kate put it,
A person who is alone in the water for the night... their past, present and future coming to keep them awake, to stop them drowning.
Heady stuff for a 'pop record', this. It would be remiss of me to even attempt to describe this, as these seven songs simply must be heard in full. There's nothing else in music like it. All I will say is that "And Dream of Sheep" is one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard, speedboat and all. That, and at the 1:19 mark "Waking the Witch" becomes probably the scariest thing Kate Bush ever committed to record, with a demonic, almost death metal voice bellowing intermittently, bewildering and disorienting multi-tracked snatches of conversations, arguments and so on, an instrumental track that seems to change every time you hear it... and somehow, a remarkably catchy song underneath it all. Continuing through somniloquy, Irish folk music and traditional Georgian chants(!), and concluding in probably the most optimistic-sounding song ever recorded, the entire suite is an incredible journey, and one you must take.

This, then, was Kate Bush in 1985. Mutual orgasms, lush synth arrangements, shoes in the lake. If The Dreaming was described by the woman herself as "my 'She's gone mad' album," then Hounds of Love is the album of a woman who's been given a clean bill of mental health. Well, half of it is, anyway. And the other half? She's taken over the asylum.

Brilliance.

* not spoken of in glowing terms, either
† empathy is a hell of a drug