[The following article was written by Sue Hudson, an editor for the British magazine Hi-Fi & Record Review. It appeared in their December 1985 issue. Ms. Hudson's article may not be accurate in every detail, but it's one of the most heartfelt brief statements about Kate to have appeared in a mainstream British publication to date. I felt it would be a nice way to begin this volume. Edited by Andrew Marvick.]
by Sue Hudson
We've been holding our breath for a long time. Three years of playing the old songs and wondering "whatever next?" Would it be even weirder than The Dreaming? Would it leave more admirers by the wayside, shaking their heads?
The real fans will happily go along for the ride, even if she isn't going the pretty way. For Kate journeys into new and exciting territories. She is an original in a music world dominated by cover versions, regressive movements and identikit superstars. The direct opposite of the archetypal rock star: compulsively introvert in a world of screaming extraverts, middle-class and deeply English amid England's all-pervasive working class American ethos, boldly feminine in rock's macho climate. Her melodic genius and articulate lyrics make the rest seem moronically simplistic. Her instrumentation is far removed from the traditional guitar/drum-kit set-up and predictable synthesizer riffs. Instead, she brews a heady mixture of musique concrete, multi-tracked chorus and acoustic instruments from the dijeridu to the balalaika; all skillfully appropriated to produce precisely calculated effects. Her lyrics are also multi-diverse. After a thousand songs on the theme of boy-meets-girl-boy-loses-girl or Thatcher's Britain, exposure to her music comes as an imaginative release as we go giddily flying into the limitless possibilities of the poetic viewpoint. Here is talk of whales, of Peter Pan, kites, Houdini, mysticism...
Acquaintances have observed, "She lives in a world of her own." But it's a world that lives within all of us, and her songs shine light into neglected areas of our minds. Using imagery nostalgically familiar to fellow Englanders, her subjects come tripping from library shelves, television and cinema screens and musty books of fairy tales, the stuff that dreams are made of. She spins tunes that haunt, twist and turn the mind, triggering long forgotten moods. Listening intently to her albums is an experience akin to having a lucid and feverish dream. Jungian symbols of youth, innocence, spiritual escape and the dark, feminine realm abound. Ghosts haunt the black vinyl grooves. Uncanny intimations disturb the sensitive. The spirit of Peter Pan hovers over her work, sometimes overtly, as in In Search of Peter Pan, but also covertly, as a yearning for the human closeness and heightened awareness of youth. The plangeant beauty of Irish and English folksong lies at the heart of the music, working its ancient magic. Magic, too, is the rich Celtic blood that Kate shares with so many poets and spell-weavers.
But it's not all brooding intensity. There are jokes, too, some Ealingesque: movie-obsessed bank robbers break into The Dreaming, there's a Brechtian romp through Arsenic and Old Lace country in Coffee Homeground and those "Darling, you were wonderful!" theatrics from Wow. Teasing seduction has produced some adorable songs, a poet's sensuality perfuming the lyrics. Images of silk and lace, flickering candlelight, white rosebushes in a storm, dusty ivy, plaiting hair by the fire, ravish the mind's eye.
But don't imagine that her music is "wet." When multi-layered sonic collage, Kate's own spectacular vocal tricks and chant-like Oriental rhythms combine at the ends of the more fey tracks, the effect can be as power-packed as the heaviest metal. The use of Eastern borrowings in odd harmonies and interlocking, unfamiliar rhythms opens up and strengthens the Romanticism. The lyrics, too, have Oriental influences, in the shape of Gurdjieff--a Sufic guru whose strange terminology and mystic psychology are a recurring motif. While it must baffle most listeners, it does lend a suitably mysterious distancing to her deeply personal songs, sharpening an image that threatens to become too sweet. It's a mischievous paradox that, while rock at its ultra-macho best is exhilarating and energizing, yet just at the moment when it is most strident and loud it leaves you needing something more. Then along comes a shy doctor's daughter from Welling who out-screams the best, out-powers the noisiest and tops it with the satisfying impact of musical and psychological depth. It's almost Wagnerian.
In a sense, the music is retrospective, since it uses the English/Irish folk idiom that went, via country-and-western, to make up rock and roll. The blues/gospel element of Kate's "rock" music is very minor. The rhythms are more often Oriental or old-European than African--waltzes, jigs and ragas. So, to the European and the Eastern ear, Kate's music has a sweet familiarity, especially for the British, who learn their folksongs in school and still sing hymns and carols in the traditional settings.
Her talent was precocious. The Saxophone Song and The Man With the Child in His Eyes were recorded as demo tapes when Kate was still at school. The first album, The Kick Inside (1978), caused tremendous media interest and is still the public's favourite. Her voice, criticized at the time, was small and childlike, the range erratic, if impressive. Since then it has improved enormously, deepening and gaining power and flexibility, until now it is a great asset, individual and capable of both subtle and stunning effects. The fleshing out of the basic material has also improved with experience, the moods becoming more atmospherically defined, with more sophisticated instrumentation and extrapolation of themes.
The second album, Lionheart, was made at the height of her popularity and is almost extravert in tone, with a strong dash of theatricality. Its hit-that-never-was, Hammer Horror, has fun with the ghosts and ghouls that lurk in the dark corners of her more sombre songs. Symphony in Blue is optimistic and self-affirming. The title track is a beautiful lullaby for a sleeping nation.
The album Never For Ever came next and starts in happy mood, with a summer night of a cha-cha-cha tribute to a new-found hero, Delius. The philosophic All We Ever Look For creates a remarkable and rare mood of reassurance and upbeat resignation, a Bush specialty. We end Side One with a hippy tour of Egypt, but Side Two plunges straight into gloom with a violent Western. The dark continues with the shiveringly ghostly The Infant Kiss, based on Henry James's The Turn of the Screw, and the bittersweet Army Dreamers, with its ingenious use of waltz time. The end comes in the horrifying Breathing, a vision of the nuclear holocaust through the eyes of an unborn child.
On to The Dreaming, a strange, alien album full of mysticism and obscurantae. Its impact owes much to sheer production quality. Kate has gradually taken over this aspect of her records since Lionheart, and each LP is technically more impressive. Her voice here is forward and strong and, on Leave It Open, deliberately distorted to create a surreal effect. Get Out of My House is a shattering trip into madness, with a stunning culmination which finds Kate braying like a mule amid a chorus of Indian drum talk.
The new album, Hounds of Love, breaks new ground for Kate with the b-side. This is a story -- The Ninth Wave -- told in a series of songs, like a Pink Floyd concept album. Free from the necessity of setting a fresh context for each track, the lyrics are more spare, more integral to the music, and her talent blossoms. The strong storyline, with its claustrophobic, mystic theme, has possibilities beyond a mere side, as do many of Kate's ideas. Such a fertile imagination is quite capable of keeping our interest in one situation for an hour, or longer. Her musicianship is now skilled and inventive enough to sustain more instrumental episodes and linking themes. And as mistress of mood, she has the right combination of talents to stretch out beyond the limiting confines of pop into more "operatic" form.
Casual listeners will miss the depth of the music. You must sit down with the lyric sheet and find out what's going on. All the vocal acrobatics and weird sounds click into place when you know what ideas, stories and situations they are expressing. In most rock and pop, the music and words may be linked, but are basically separate. Kate creates, more and more, a fusion between the two--the sounds directly expressing the subject. This is a throwback to Wagner's music-drama, with its leitmotifs, turning music into an idea. The Beatles revived the technique, and bands of the hippy era like Pink Floyd carried the banner. But only since the development of electronics, which put virtually the whole world of sound at the fingertips of the "player" of a Fairlight, has there been such flexibility to allow individuality and encourage creativity. Kate is fast becoming a master in the use of this sonic montage, perhaps because the ideas she is using are far more complex, have more "resonances", than those of her contemporaries.
But Kate will never be an academic artist, drily applying intellectual music theory to the delight of a handful of peers, forging into new areas for the sake of "progress". Her style is personal, individual, impressionistic. Like Delius, her music will always flow from poetic necessity, breaking from the confines of tradition because expression demands it. I just hope that she will have the confidence to follow her instincts and not be discouraged by the music press, who in the main are baffled and annoyed by her uniqueness. Unable to pigeon-hole her music, they turn instead to ridicule and condescension to fill the pages. Which is a disservice to the British public who, to their undying credit, have made Kate Bush such a popular success.
©1990 Andy Marvick