‘Hounds of Love’: one of the most beautiful songs pop music has ever produced

Ian Penman writes in the London Review of Books (Vol. 36 No. 8 [17 April 2014] pages 11-12) about Kate Bush. It’s a fun read.

Like Kate herself, Penman’s essay is half bonkers. Even so, it does contain a spot-on description of what makes the song “Hounds of Love” so thrilling to listen to:

‘Hounds of Love’, though, is quite simply one of the most beautiful songs pop music has ever produced. It’s not just a song about abandon, but one that embodies feelings of anxiety and abandon, smallness and bigness, in its dizzying drive and texture and in Bush’s joyously unhinged singing. Her keening vocals suggest adult poise on the verge of helpless childhood fall. The whole song, but especially the line ‘his little heart, it beats so fast,’ still automatically reduces me to tears. The arc she makes of ‘hold’ in the yelp of ‘hold me down’ is truly overwhelming: at once pained and lost and powerfully erotic.

Listen to the closing minutes of ‘Running Up That Hill’, with its muted chorus of multi-tracked Kates: screaming, grieving, witchy, shattered, a sonic foam rising above the song’s jagged tribunal. It’s a very odd song indeed. At the very least, it claws and rubs at the dissolute line between ecstasy and abjection in a way that was, shall we say, uncommon in mainstream 1980s pop: ‘Tearing you asunder … do you want to know it doesn’t hurt me?’

Or listen to the way she enunciates the line ‘you never understood me’ in ‘The Big Sky’, her voice somewhere between a caress and a storm warning. Listen to the bizarre chorus she makes of her voice, how it conveys utter exhilaration at its own just glimpsed possibilities. Such wayward joys begin to explain why some of us were so entranced by her to begin with.



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