Sympathetic Stupid

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Kate Bush: The Whole Story

In breaking news, Kate Bush has been crowned the premier Bush on the planet by no less an authority than googlefight. In a related development, she remains the top diva, easily taking out Miss Minogue and Mariah Carey.

These frivolities are inspired by the impending release of her undoubtedly magnificent new album - Aerial - though a twelve-year gap since the last one produces some big expectations, as well as kilos of publicity. 35 days to go, by my count, though one day more in North America so living in the US sucks just that little bit more this year.

To celebrate, I'm catching up on the old stuff. I know compilation albums are seriously passé, and that this is only really the first two-thirds of her career, but since I was cheap enough to burn this one before I gifted it to Mum, it's what I got. (Dunno how well the 'Whole Story' can possibly be done in 12 tracks, but let's see how it goes.)

The literate, ecstatic rock of Wuthering Heights (with a re-recorded vocal?) must lead the album; the brilliance of this track is not dimmed by the years, and that big drum fill before the last chorus gets me every time. It's kinda unimaginable that this should have been her first single. It's just good for the world that she didn't do an Emily Bronté and make it a debut-swansong package.

The rest of the early tracks are the low point, for me. Cloudbusting has a good string riff but the synth and snare action is a little incongruous, and the song is generally a bit unimpressive. The Man With The Child In His Eyes always reminds me of Elton John (not necessarily a bad thing), what with its piano noodles and swelling strings. And then Breathing, a lengthy three-movement piece which doesn't really come into its own until the last minute or so, when Kate really lets herself go.

Track 5 picks up the album. Wow - track name and feeling, all in one. It's a slow builder with a big bass line and a great chorus, especially when Kate dives from the top of her range all the way down. This leads into a great drum part, the big tom riff from the start of Hounds Of Love, my favourite Kate Bush track. I love the nature imagery, especially the 'it's in the trees/it's coming!' that leads into the track. It's a mark of genius that she can find the right place for human voices barking like dogs. The only problem with the track is that, I reckon, it's one chorus short; just a little more, please, Kate?

So then we're Running Up That Hill, a good track that's only spoiled a bit by the very very 80s drum machine and synth backing. But it's another great chorus. Army Dreamers follows, a charming political statement wrapped up in a really sensitive arrangement. And then another big tom riff on Sat On Your Lap - Stuart Elliott again, I believe? This is where Kate seems to give her voice the biggest workout, spanning her entire three octaves and using such expressive intonation and shaping. All this and a big finish.

And then it's Experiment IV, the new track on this album, which is a nice late-80s slow rocker, but not a seriously great track. The Dreaming follows, pushing the boundaries a bit with some vocal percussion, didgeridoo and open political statements about the treatment of Australian indigenous people. And then, of course, it's Babooshka, the strange, strange tale of a wife who tests her husband by sending him anonymous notes signed Grandma, in Russian? At one level these lyrics are pretty straightforward, but I'm convinced I'll never quite get what she was about.

It's a great album. She's a great artist. Long live Kate; and let's hope she doesn't have any more kids so she can concentrate one making some more great albums.