New Tunes from Old Friends
Tori Amos, Kate Bush, and Emilie Simon span the feminist spectrum, and then some
by Gregg Shapiro
It’s easy to follow in Kate Bush’s footsteps—or rather, footprints—when she’s walking in the snow, as she does on her frosty new disc 50 Words for Snow (Anti-/Fish People). Closest in mood to her 2005 Aerial set, right down to the mini-epic length of the seven songs (the shortest track clocks in at just under seven minutes), the disc feels like the musical equivalent of a snowstorm.
That’s especially true of “Snowflake,” which has the hypnotic sensation that occurs while sitting in a window and watching the snow blanket streets, sidewalks, houses, and trees. The weather intensifies on “Lake Tahoe,” although it’s not quite a blizzard. Of course, once the snow has fallen, what’s left to do but build a snowman, as Bush does on “Misty.” The pace picks up considerably on the feral “Wild Man.”
Already a favorite among the gays, Bush cements her status with cameos by her royal highness Elton John on “Snowed in at Wheeler Street” and out actor/writer Stephen Fry, supplying the voice of the character Prof. Joseph Yupik, on the dazzling title cut.
Tori Amos is probably the one artist who has been most regularly compared to Kate Bush. Early in Amos’s career, when the focus was on the piano and her voice, the Bush comparisons came fast and furious. With her terribly ambitious new album, the 21st-century song cycle Night of Hunters (Deutsche Grammophon/Decca), she bravely explores another avenue. Still, it’s not all that surprising to find a classically trained musician such as Amos moving, if only momentarily, in this direction. After all, Rufus Wainwright, the closest thing that Amos has to a contemporary, has written an opera.
Joined by daughter Natashya Hawley on several tracks and accompanied by the Apollon Musagète Quartet and Andreas Ottensamer, principal clarinetist of the Berlin Philharmonic, Amos pays homage to Chopin, Satie, Bach, Schumann, Debussy, and others through a series of variations based on the composers’ themes. In spite of the distinctly noncommercial nature of the recording, Amos fans are certain to find things to their liking, such as “Job’s Coffin” and “Your Ghost.”
While Miss Tory is off investigating classical pastures, French pop chanteuse Emilie Simon goes for a distinctly vintage Kate Bush vibe on The Big Machine (Le Plan/Universal). The Bush business is especially strong on cuts such as “Rainbow,” “Nothing to Do with You,” “Chinatown,” and “The Devil at My Door.” You might think this Kate copycat would get tiresome, but there’s actually something charming at work.
Through it all, Simon also emerges as her own performer, because it’s immediately obvious that you aren’t listening to Bush—particularly on “Ballad of the Big Machine,” “The Cycle,” “Dreamland,” “Rocket to the Moon,” and “This Is Your World.”
Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.