It's in the trees. It's coming... You wait six years for a new Kate Bush album, then two come along at once.
Hot on the heels of Director's Cut, her collection of Sensual World/Red Shoes reworkings which were as enjoyable as their necessity was questionable, comes a completely new album, her first since 2005's Aerial. And, to the relief of anyone who carries a torch for the reclusive genius, it's a beauty.
Formed of just seven songs, albeit ones of considerable length, its themes and tales all relate in some way to snow. Its sound is mimetic of the white stuff: specifically the kind of snow that arrives unannounced and settles gently in the night, rather than a dramatic, howling blizzard.
The first voice you hear, on opener "Snowflake", is deeper than the one with which we are familiar. That's because it isn't Bush's at all, but her son Albert, singing of clouds, forests, horses and snowdrifts over a hesitant, repetitive piano motif while his mother chimes in on the chorus. The choral close harmonies of "Lake Tahoe" appear to describe the ghost of a woman who drowned in a lake, and things only get stranger from thereon in.
"Misty" sees Kate apparently having a one-night stand with a snowman, strings swelling as she laments "Sunday morning, I can't find him/ The sheets are soaking, and on my pillow: dead leaves, bits of twisted branches and frozen garden, crushed and stolen grasses from slumbering lawn". It's the oddest erotica you'll hear all year: "Wuthering Heights" rewritten by Raymond Briggs. "Wild Man", the lead single, imagines the discovery of the Yeti from the Abominable Snowman's point of view, and features surely the first mention of "rhododendrons" in a pop song since Roxy Music's "Do the Strand".
The album reaches a peak with "Snowed in at Wheeler Street", a duet with Elton John which seems to postulate a belief in reincarnation as two lovers meet across centuries and continents, amid the cinders of ancient Rome, the war-torn Europe of 1942, the smog of Victorian London and the rubble of 9/11.
The frantic title track features another celebrity cameo as Stephen Fry, creditably playing it straight as "Prof Josef Yupik", recites synonyms for snow ranging from the poetic ("blackbird braille", "diamante pavlova") to the banal ("bad for trains") as Bush heckles him: "Come on Joe, you've got 32 to go..."
Then, with "Among Angels", we're back to that delicate, hesitant piano, and she melts away again, just like the snowman on her sheets.