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Date: Thu, 06 Oct 88 13:34 PDT
Subject: Melody Maker by Harry Doherty, Nov. 1978
(This article first appeared in Melody Maker, November 1978)
Kate: Enigma Variations
by Harry Doherty
The enigma that is Kate Bush--it confuses us all. I've just read a bitter character assassination of Kate Bush (in another paper) and the central area of complaint around which this assault revolves is that Ms. Bush is "nice"
"An hour or so in the company of Kate Bush," this enlightened scribe considered, "is like being trapped for the duration in a very wholesome TV show with definite but unwarranted intellectual aspirations."
I can understand that as a reaction to a well-mannered chance meeting, but really, had the writer listened attentively to her first album (regardless of liking or disliking it), I don't think he would have come to the same rash and puerile conclusion.
Actually, Kate Bush scares me, for a combination of reasons. The first is the diplomatic pleasantness and awesome logic she displays in interviews, but that is only one dimension--she is, in fact, a "nice" person. It is when that initial impact is paired with the multifarious intensity of her music that I start to quiver.
The contrast is eerie, and frightening. In the studio, living out her imaginative fantasies, kate Bush is strickien by a rush of surrealism, and suddenly a range of weird personalities are displayed. It is a subconsciousness that was evident on her first album, The Kick Inside, and it is captured to an even greater extent on Lionheart, the sequel now released.
"Nice" is not a word I'd turn to to describe the consequences. The songwriting, the singing, the arrangements, the production have the mark of a singular personality. Kate Bush's music is more like a confrontation. At times, it makes the listener feel uneasy and insecure. Kate's approach to her work is marked by an obstinate refusal to compromise in any way, so she does not make it easy for the listener to get into the music. To begin with, it's a challenge.
Because, then, it's difficult to appreciate full Kate Bush's music (and who, after all, is she to make such demands?)--compounded with the fact that she seems to have the Midas touch--she is set up for criticism, which must make it all the more fulfilling to carry off two awards in the MM Poll. Even when told of her performance in the Poll, Kate girlishly enthuses: "That's wonderful! Fantastic! Incredible!"
The success of The Kick Inside and its hit singles ( Wuthering Heights and The Man With the Child in His Eyes) was as much a hindrance as a help when the time came for Kate Bush to record a second album. As she has said before, the terms of reference were suddenly overturned. Instead of a rising talent, she is now a risen talent--and anything less than an emulation of the initial success will be interpreted as a failure. It's a pressure, though, that she can live with.
There are similarities to the debut album. Lionheart is produced once more by Andrew Powell and, generally, the musicians who did the honours on The Kick Inside are recalled. Kate wants the connections between her first and second album to stop there.
For instance, her own band makes a slight contribution to the new album, being featured on two of the tracks, Wow and Kashka From Baghdad, and had it not been for a mix-up in the organisation, might have made a heavier contribution. It is, it appears, a sensitive situation, and one that Kate doesn't care to dwell upon, but she's still determined that, eventually, her own band--Charlie Morgan (drums), Brian Bath (guitars), Del Palmer (bass), Paddy Bush (mandolin)--will play a more prominent part in the recording proceedings.
On the subject of producing, it's significant that Kate is accredited as assistant producer and so is acknowledged as playing an active role in mixing the sound as well as performing. She takes an immense interest in recording techniques and states intentions to pursue ambitions in that area. There was, however, a problem in communication when she was involved in the production and her lack of professional lingo for various methods of recording often led to confusion and amusement in the studio.
"I feel I know what I'm talking about in the studio now. I know what I should hear. The reaction to me explaining what I want in the studio was amusement, to a certain extent. The were all taking the piss out of me a bit."
Overall, Bush was concerned that the new album should differ quite radically from her first. &ocq.Maybe I'm a bit too close to it at the moment, but I find it much more adventurous than the last one. I'm much happier with the songs and the arrangements and the backing tracks.
"I was getting a bit worried about labels from that last album: everything being soft, airy-fairy. That was great for the time, but it's not really what I want to do now, or what I want to do, say, in the next year. I guess I want to get basically heavier in the sound sense...and I think that's on the way, which makes me really happy.
"I don't really think that there are any songs on the album that are as close to .bf ital Wuthering Heights .pf as there were on the last one. I mean, there's lots of songs people could draw comparison with. I want the first single that comes out from this album to be reasonably up-tempo. <The first single was Hammer Horror .> That's the first thing I'm concerned with, because I want to break away from what has previously gone. I'm not pleased with being associated with such soft, romantic vibes, not for the first single anyway. If that happens again, that's what I will be to everyone."
She is acutely aware of the danger of being pigeon-holed, and is actively engaged in discouraging that.
"If you can get away with it and keep changing, great. I think it should be done because in that way you'll always have people chasing after you trying to find out what you're doing. And, anyway, if you know what's coming next, what's the point? If I really wanted to, I guess I could write a song that would be so similar to Wuthering Heights . But I don't. What's the point? I'd rather write a song that was really different, that I liked, although it might not get anywhere."
Have you heard her new single, Hammer Horror ? Now that's really different.
The major changes in the preparation for Lionheart was undoubtedly that Kate, over-burdened with promotional schemes for the first album, was for the first time left with the unsavoury prospect of meeting deadlines and (perhaps) having to rush her writing to do that. It was a problem she was having trouble coming to terms with at our last meeting, when she spoke in obvious admiration of bands like Queen--who came up with the goods on time every year, and still found time to conduct world tours.
But Kate insisted that she wasn't going to be rushed, and eventually the songs came along. In all, it took ten weeks to record the twelve tracks (ten are on the album), an indication of the meticulousness shown by Bush herself in exercising as much control as possible over every facet of the work. "I'm not always right, and I know I'm not," she says, "but it's important to know what's going on, even if I'm not controlling it."
I'll be interested to read the reviews of Lionheart . It'll be sad, I think, if the album is greeted with the same sort of insulting indifference that The Kick Inside met, when Kate Bush was pathetically underrated.
Lionheart is, as the artist desired, a heavier album than its predecessor, with Bush setting some pretty exacting tests for the listener. Kate's songwriting is that much more mature, and her vocal performance has an even more vigorous sense of drama.
Musically, the tracks on Lionheart are more carefully structured than before. There is, for instance, a distinct absence of straight songs, like the first album's Moving, Saxophone Song, The Man With the Child in His Eyes and The Kick Inside . Here, only Oh England, My Lionheart makes an immediate impression and I'm not sure that the move away from soft ballads (be it to secure a separate image) is such a wise one. As Bush proved on those songs on The Kick Inside, simplicity can also have its own sources of complication.
There is much about this album that is therapeutic, and often Kate Bush is the subject of her own course. Fullhouse is the most blatant example of that. <There is no evidence that this song is autobiographical.> On of the album's three unspectacular tracks musically (along with, in my opinion, In the Warm Room and Kashka From Baghdad ), it is still lyrically a fine example of ridding the brain of dangerous paranoias. The stabbing verse of "Imagination sets in,/Then all the voices begin,/Telling you things that aren't happening/(But the nig and they nag, 'til they're under your skin)" is set against the soothing chorus: "You've really got to/Remember yourself,/You've got a fullhouse in your head tonight,/Remember yourself,/Stand back and see emotion getting you uptight."
Even Fullhouse is mild, though, when compared to tracks like Symphony in Blue, In the Warm Room and Kashka From Baghdad, which exude an unashamed sensuality. Symphony in Blue, the opening track, is a hypnotic ballad with the same sort of explicit sexual uninhibitiveness as Feel It from the first album. "The more I think about sex,/The better it gets,/Here we have a purpose in life,/Good for the blood circulation,/Good for releasing the tension./The root of our reincarnation," sings Kate happily.
In Search of Peter Pan, Wow (running together on the first side) and Hammer Horror are are examples of Kate's strange ability to let the subconscious mind run amok in the studio. Wow is tantalisingly powerful and Hammer Horror (the single) is most impressive for the way it seems to tie in so many of the finer points of the first album and project them through one epic song.
That leaves three tracks, Don't Push Your Foot on the Heartbrake, Oh England, My Lionheart, and Coffee Homeground . All of them with totally contrasting identieds but all succeeding in areas that many might have considered outside the scope of Kate Bush.
A few months ago, in the paper, Kate said how one of her musical ambitions was to write a real rousing rock'n'roll song and how difficult she found that task. James and the Cold Gun was her effort on The Kick Inside, and with Don't Push Your Foot on the Heartbrake she has tackled the art of writing a roasting rocker on her own terms. Heartbrake (another piece of emotional therapy) might not be considered a rocker in the traditional sense of racing from start to finish but it's still one of the most vicious pieces of rock I've stumbled across in some time. The chorus is slow, pedestrianly slow. The pace is deceiving. It slides into the chorus. Bush moves into a jog. Then the second part of the chorus. It's complete havoc, and when it comes to repeating that second part in the run-up to the end, Kate wrenches from her slight frame a screaming line of unbelievably consummate rock'n'roll power that astounded me. A rather unnerving turn to Kate's music, I think.
Then there's Coffee Homeground, influenced by Bertold Brecht and inspired by a journey with a taxi driver who was convinced that somebody was out to poison him.
For Oh England, My Lionheart, from which the album title is derived, Kate is expecting a barrage of criticism because of the blatant soppiness of the lyric.
Kate's reasons for writing the song are simple enough. She had always liked Jerusalem, and thought that a contemporary song proclaiming the romantic beauty of England should be written.
"A lot of people could easily say that the song is sloppy. It's very classically done. It's only got acoustic instruments on it and it's done...almost madrigally, you know. I daresay a lot of people will think that it's just a load of old slush, but it's just an area that I think it's good to cover. Everything I do is very English, and I think that's one reason I've broken through to a lot of countries. The English vibe is very appealing."
To the Reaching Out (Interviews) Table of Contents
"The pull and the push of it all..." - Kate Bush
Marvick - Hill
Willker - Mapes
Grepel - Love-Hounds