In the decade after punk wrecked itself, British rock splintered into tiny, overlapping scenes: goth and industrial, prog survivors and art-rock innovators, a dozen strains of post-punk, New Romantics and New Pop and synthpop and dream pop. Then there was Kate Bush, an artist whose music shared elements with most of these but who never had much use for genres or cliques. After emerging as a loner teen prodigy in 1978, with a love anthem howled in the voice of Wuthering Heights’ heroine, she kept the weirdness cranked up to 11 after achieving fame and soon drifted far enough from the mainstream to alienate early fans.
At that pivotal juncture, Bush decamped to a farmhouse in the country—not to fade into obscurity, but to make hits without compromising her idiosyncrasies. The result was Hounds of Love, which remains both the best Kate Bush album and the most Kate Bush album. A paean to love of all kinds—and, most of all, to love of life—it reeled in listeners with an opening half stuffed with buoyant singles like “The Big Sky” and “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God),” which dreamed of empathy across lines of identity and circumstance. She also found room to explore her literary obsessions amid the ringing choruses: “Cloudbusting” draws on a memoir by the son of Freud acolyte Wilhelm Reich, wrapping its allusions around pliant vocals that soar like birdsong and curl in on themselves with feline grace. And she ran with the freedom those frontloaded hits gave her: Side B is a suite about a sailor that revels in the uncoolness of Irish jigs and the campy call-and-responses of musical theater. But even this highly conceptual sprawl is grounded by arresting images: “There’s a ghost in our home just watching you without me,” she breathes on “Watching You Without Me.” With Hounds of Love, Kate Bush ascended from oddball genius to master alchemist, transmuting her most outré impulses into something irresistible. –Judy Berman / Pitchfork.com