Sympathetic Stupid

Monday, November 14, 2005

Kate Bush: Aerial

Make no mistake, this is a beautiful album. But is it a great album? For me, at the moment, it just misses that mark.

King Of The Mountain is the single and opens Side A, and gives a good taste of what to expect from the rest of the recording. Production is flawless, absolutely clean and smooth and leaving room even on the busiest tracks. This space is required, of course, for Kate's voice; it's as pure as ever, but more languorous and relaxed than before. She's always at the top of the mix, except on the great closing track Aerial - being set back here seems to give more freedom to her vocals, the highlight in the peculiar yet charming section where she sings a duet with a bird.

There's plenty of variation in the tracks. Bertie, while sickly-sweet on first taste - "Lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely Bertie" - eventually resolves into a baroque romp with harpsichord and a great cello line complementing the vocals. How To Be Invisible is practically country, tasting like a much less-angry Neko Case. Sunset swings jazzily with cool upright bass; the pulsating bridge (in 6?) makes the track. Somewhere in Between has new-school R&B overtones and shows off the incredible restraint in Kate's vocals this time around. Nocturn is seriously soft-rock - again, a decent bass line helps the track to the climax.

There are sundry unexpected bits. Prelude, opening side B, is Kate playing accompaniment to bird-song samples - before being joined by someone I can only assume is Bertie (without the CD cover in front of me). This works, surprisingly. Less successful is An Architect's Dream, leading into The Painter's Link, a pair of "concept" tracks about a street painter whose work is washed away by rain. The music is fine, but the half-spoken, half-sung stream-of-consciousness "painter" interludes are simultaneously too obvious and too metaphorical.

Then there's Pi, my favourite track. I was initially turned off by Kate's beautiful, full-range recitation of the digits of pi, but before long my inner geek embraced the track. Another in 6, it has a brilliant wandering bass line and shuffling groove under organ, guitar and a transcendental Kate.

Overall? Really good, but not great. Much as I like Pi, the album lacks true highlights. It never reaches the spectacular stratosphere of Wuthering Heights or Sat In Your Lap's euphoric abandon. There's nothing which gives me goosebumps like the urgency of Hounds Of Love. Why? Well, as with many artists, I reckon she's got too happy and her art is suffering.