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Singer's fans have waited 12 years for new album
In the 12 years that separated Kate Bush's last album, The Red Shoes, from this year's Aerial, the singer's fans evolved various strategies to cope with the wait. One, John Mendelssohn, even published a novel called Waiting for Kate Bush. None of them, however, forgot about the striking songwriter who, since she swooped to fame in 1978 with the gloriously strange single Wuthering Heights, has been described variously as a white witch, a "Pre-Raphaelite nymph," a pioneering female solo artist and -- perhaps most frequently -- a genius.
A year ago, aiming to fend off rumours that her much-awaited album was non-existent, Bush sent a note to what she describes as her "core base of fans, which is not a great number of people." The note said, "Happy Christmas, and by the way, the record's coming along nicely, and it will be out at some point next year."
The response to the note surprised her: "The last thing that I expected was for the press to be even at all interested in such a brief, vague comment," she says, "but they all picked up on it."
Speaking from her home outside London, which she shares with guitarist Danny McIntosh and their seven-year-old son Bertie, Bush explains: "There seemed to be this incredible sense of excitement about the record coming, which on one hand was wonderful for me, but on the other hand was when I really started to feel the pressure."
The note not only created a self-imposed deadline, it also sparked the firestorm of publicity that propelled Aerial up the charts worldwide last month, despite the fact that Bush has not performed in support of it.
Interviews with the famously reclusive singer are about as common as five-leaf clovers, but on the phone she comes across as warm, enthusiastic, even effusive. The woman who has been responsible for some of the past three decades' most downright scary pop music is clearly in a very good mood. Releasing Aerial has removed an albatross from her shoulders; the fact that it has received almost uniform praise has particularly pleased her.
According to Bush, she was concerned that the public "might feel it was a bit anticlimactic when the actual record appeared, after such a build-up ... It feels like people have responded on a really direct level with the work."
While Aerial's first disc, subtitled A Sea of Honey, has moments of darkness, its companion, A Sky of Honey, is an almost unambiguously upbeat suite of songs about artistic creation, nature, the sublime and freedom. "I'm actually very happy," she says. "It's not that I particularly set out to write something positive; I think it's just the way it came out."
Becoming a mother may have slowed the album's progress, but it has certainly buoyed Bush's spirits; in the Renaissance-flavoured Bertie, she sings about how her son brings her "so much joy." Perhaps the most arresting moment on the two discs is a moment of unrestrained happiness in the epic title track. Bush performs a laughing duo with a bird: It twitters in melodic bursts, and the singer titters expansively, as if to imitate or outdo it. The effect resembles jazz players trading solos. Bush laughs at the suggestion.
"I suppose it was a bit like a duel," she says.
"I was also trying to draw a comparison between the two languages -- it struck me that laughter has got this sort of connection [with] the shapes and patterns and songs of birdsong."
Bush is not often renowned for her sense of humour, although the occasionally campy sensibility of her earlier videos offset her perceived seriousness. The promo for King of the Mountain, Aerial's first single and a powerfully moody song, is overtly humorous: It shows the journey of Elvis's animated white body suit from Graceland to the Arctic, to reunite the King, who has been living there in tabloid-fantasy seclusion. On a musical level, new song Pi finds her singing about a character who is obsessed with the number's calculation; in the refrain, she sings it to over 100 decimal places, with a gentle sensuality. The result is impressive, but also undoubtedly barmy.
"Sometimes, early on," Bush recalls, "when I was playing that to friends, they really liked it, but when they got to the end, they'd laugh. I thought that was really nice. I think that there's always room for humour in music. It's something that always takes itself so seriously, which I think is a bit of a shame."
As much as Bush is keen to speak about certain aspects of her life, she's also quick to distance herself from strictly autobiographical readings of her work, especially when she's almost always singing from the point of view of imaginary characters or historical figures. In conversation, she will occasionally, but subtly, leave certain topics under wraps.
"My life and my work are very interlocked," she says. "That's partly why I like to keep my private life private. I don't really see myself as a celebrity, but more as a sort of mitre." Not a bishop's hat, that is, but a joint, which forms a corner in a building; Bush sees herself as joining people together, including her family and her recurring cast of musicians, who appear from album to album. Mitres tend to be unobtrusive, and Aerial's stealthily rhythmic song How to Be Invisible, has often been read in terms of Bush's own desire for privacy. It features a recipe for invisibility, which involves "hem of anorak," "stem of wallflower" and "hair of doormat" -- all references, as Bush notes, to "geeks," who are "literally absorbed into the wallpaper."
Certainly a number of Bush's more ardent fans self-identify as "geeks," and
this is, after all, a woman who in 1989 released a song (Deeper Understanding)
about a love affair with a computer. When asked if she herself ever feels
"geeky," she giggles and replies, "I think we all feel geeky at times, don't we?
Isn't that all a part of the wonderful tapestry of life?"
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"The pull and the push of it all..." - Kate Bush
Marvick - Hill
Willker - Mapes
Grepel - Love-Hounds