Wave after wave, each mightier than the last,
Till last, a ninth one, gathering half the deep
And full of voices, slowly rose and plunged
Roaring, and all the wave was in a flame:…
Idylls of the King: The Coming of Arthur, Alfred, Lord Tennyson
If The Hounds of Love’s first five tracks were not perfect pieces of pop in themselves (and they are), what made the album extraordinary was the following suite of seven songs, the concept album, The Ninth Wave.
Taking its inspiration from Lord Alfred Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, The Ninth Wave tells the story of a young woman, cast adrift in the ocean, drowning, waiting to be rescued. The heroine of the story goes through a myriad of emotions, of hallucinations, as she awaits her fate.
The album’s first track, And Dream of Sheep finds our protagonist alone in the water, swept out to sea, exhausted, with her hope draining away. She knows she faces two choices: fight or die.
‘Little light, shining, little light, will guide them to me…’ Telling herself over and over that she will be rescued is balanced with what she increasingly feels is the better option – to sleep, to drift away and drown. She is in denial about what is happening to her, reasoning ‘they’ll not take me for a buoy’ while all the time, at the back of her mind, is the horrific thought: I may not be found.*
(*It’s interesting to note that the suite follows roughly follows the pattern of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ Grief Cycle – Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.)
Under Ice – hypothermia is settling in and the stranded woman is starting to hallucinate. Sparkles, diamonds of ice and the fear of what lurks beneath, pulling her down and down and down… her plaintiff cry of ‘It’s me!‘ as she realises that she herself is the dark thing dragging her own self down. Her loved ones entreat her – ‘you must wake up’ – but she sinks further and further down…
As she comes to terms with her own mortality, our girl faces her own overwhelming guilt. Waking the Witch is an angry, violent struggle with the manifestation of these feelings, pleading to be forgiven, damning herself, throwing herself on the mercy of an imagined judge and jury.
‘What say you, good people? Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!’
As her guilt threatens to overwhelm her, thoughts turn to those she has left behind. She imagines them waiting for her, confused and frightened. In Watching You Without Me, she sees them haunted by never knowing what has happened to her, having to live with uncertainty every day. Her ghost pleads with them ‘Don’t ignore me’, trying to reach out to no avail.
The thought of this loss hits hard and in ‘Jig of Life‘ she begins to battle, talking to the older version of herself. ‘Now is the place where the crossroads meet, will you look into the future? Never, never say goodbye, to my part of your life.‘ In one of the album’s most striking points, Kate’s brother, John Carder-Bush recites a poem, a plea to her to see the love, the life that is waiting for her.
Can’t you see where memories are kept bright?
Tripping on the water like a laughing girl.
Time in her eyes is spawning past life,
One with the ocean and the woman unfurled,
Holding all the love that waits for you here.
Catch us now for I am your future.
A kiss on the wind and we’ll make the land.
Come over here to where When lingers,
Waiting in this empty world,
Waiting for Then, when the lifespray cools.
For Now does ride in on the curl of the wave,
And you will dance with me in the sunlit pools.
We are of the going water and the gone.
We are of water in the holy land of water
And all that’s to come runs in
With the thrust on the strand.
(Copyright: John Carder-Bush 1985)
In ‘Hello Earth‘ she goes outside of herself, sees the whole planet, the struggles that everyone faces every day and the beauty of life itself, of the promise of her own future. She asks herself, incredulously, ‘Why did I go?‘
Finally, as she fights, a light in the dark. Whether this is the actual light of a rescue ship or the metaphorical ‘going towards the light’ is never made clear. In The Morning Fog, she is simply filled with love and grateful for the chance to have lived at all. ‘I tell my loved ones, how much I loved them.‘
In ‘The Ninth Wave’, Kate has created an album which could have been made in any era and still resonated with its audience. Her live shows in 2014, Before the Dawn, brought the album to life for those lucky enough to see it.
The Hounds of Love, personal bias aside, must surely be considered one of the greatest ever made. That it and its creator garner such affection thirty years on is a testament to its resonance in a music industry too crowded with sub-par, factory farmed acts or those musicians so filled with their own self-importance that music seems a side-note to their arrogance.
Kate and her music have inspired untold musicians, artists, writers. We can perhaps see her influence in the music of Tori Amos, Fever Ray, Goldfrapp, and her most likely successor to the best-loved British female musician crown must surely be Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine.
Whoever comes next, Kate, her music and her legacy are part of the soundtrack to the lives of those of us lucky enough to appreciate and love her.
Let’s see what Katie does next.