To the Reaching Out (Reviews) Table of Contents
Welcome back to the fey, pattery, indeed *sproingy* world of
by Robert Sandall
Romping home a close second to the Blue Nile in the increasingly competitive Studio Marathon stakes, Kate Bush's sixth album has finally arrived almost exactly four years after her last, The Hounds Of Love. "Each record gets harder to make" may not sound like much of an excuse for being so late either, but to judge from the fineness of detail and diversity of influences Bush has compressed into the 40-odd minutes here, it's a perfectly plausible one: The Sensual World is as highly wrought and deeply thought as any album since the last by Peter Gabriel.
Like Gabriel, Bush has been busy thinking up ways to incorporate more exotic and atmospheric elements into her already broad and quirky rock coalition. Unlike him, though, she has leaned less heavily on the obvious source, Africa. The Uillean pipes (courtesy of Davey Spillane) which barge brilliantly into the chorus of the album's opening, eponymous track are the first of a number of surprise guests, of whom the all-woman Bulgarian folk a cappella troupe, Trio Bulgarka, are the ones who stay the longest and leave the strongest impression. Their shrill, ghostly whoops and harmonies decorate three of the tracks on side two: a pattery, Gabriel-esque meditation on the ambiguous blessings of technology, in this case computers, called Deeper Understanding; a heavily modified bluesy rocker, Rocket's Tail; and best of the lot, Never Be Mine, a tremulously Bushy ballad with a beautifully wiggly interlace of keyboard motifs.
While Bush's famous fey voice would probably be enough to hold the disparate strands of The Sensual World together, the album takes its cue and colouring too from the hypnotically sinuous sway of the pipes on the title track. There are some strapping power chords to be despatched here and there, most notably on Love And Anger, but the dominant mood is of Oriental reverie, similar in feel to that achieved latterly by Japan. And in fact the last track on side one, Heads We're Dancing, reproduces that mysteriously *sproingy* bass sound favoured by Mick Karn.
An analysis of its parts however doesn't really do justice to the boldness of the album. Bush has taken on a lot of styles but The Sensual World doesn't, thankfully, end up sounding simply clever or stylised. Which is not to say that all the bridges she tries to build here stand up, but to acknowledge that the imaginative effort and patience that went into their design should guarantee Kate Bush's position in that peculiar class of her own for some while yet. **** -- Robert Sandall
The Sensual Woman
By Sheila Rogers
February 8, 1990
After releasing her first album in four years, Kate Bush is blooming
"It's really nice for me to feel that I'm being seen almost as a new artist by Americans," says British singer Kate Bush, who in fact has six studio albums to her credit and for over a decade has had an enormous following in Britain, Europe and other parts of the world. "In England I had to do so much fighting for years. I like the idea that people haven't really heard of me here. Of being able to start from a musical base. That's what I've always wanted." That musical base is her most recent album (her first album of new material in four years), The Sensual World, a potent, heady collection that expresses a particularly feminine side of the sensual world.
Bush, looking a bit tired - belying the unabashed passion of her songs - reclines in her chair in front of a fire in her hotel room in New York, noting that the fake log burning in front of her is a poor excuse for a real fire. She then explains her "battle" - her attempts to maintain control despite all the fuss that's been made over her since her debut album went to number one in the U.K. twelve years ago.
While Bush was still in school in Kent, near London, a family friend played smoe of her songs for Pink Floyd's Dave Gilmour. "I was about sixteen," Bush says, "and I had been writing songs for a while, and my family thought that maybe I might be able to make some kind of waves as a songwriter." She describes her family, with whom she's remarkably close, as "a very musical family - there was always music around." Her father, a surgeon, played piano, while her two older brothers, Paddy and John, explored traditional Irish and English music. And her mother, she says, "used to be a very good Irish dancer."
After Gilmour heard Bush's songs, he paid to have three of them professionally recorded, and it was through those tracks that she got a recording contract with EMI. (Gilmour also appears on Bush's new album. "He gave me a pathway through," Bush says, "and we've always stayed in touch, but this is the first time that we've worked together in years.")
Her EMI contract enabled Bush to write more songs and pursue studies in dance and theatrical mime. In 1977, at nineteen, she released The Kick Inside, whose first single, the fiery "Wuthering Heights," based on one of the climatic passages in the Emily Bronte novel, went to number one in the U.K. That instant success, says Bush, was "totally overwhelming. My life completely changed. I had no time for myself or my work, and it was very difficult to be private. It became one big promotional public exercise."
The singer's comely features were splashed across the pages of the British press, with such captions as "Cute Kate heads for the heights." But Bush didn't really appreciate the pinup image or the hype. "I had no control over the situation," she says. "It wasn't what I wanted. It was exactly not what I wanted." By acquiring her own studio and maintaining her privacy, Bush did manage to remedy the situation. But that was only after her follow-up album, Lionheart, was hastily released under pressure from her record company. (Bush says it's one of her least satisfying albums.)
In 1979, Bush went on tour in Britain and Europe. "I really enjoyed it," she says. "It was tremendous, a fabulous experience, but it was incredibly, incredibly exhausting and a total commitment. I don't think people understand the level of involvement that I get into when I do a project." Anyone who's seen the video of her 1979 concert at London's Hammersmith Odeon will appreciate what she's talking about. It's an elaborate production replete with mime, magic and theatrics.
She hasn't toured since. "I got straight from an album into making videos, and it's a total involvement for me," she says. "By the time the video and promotion are done for an album. I'm absolutely exhausted; there's nothing left of me. It would be impossible for me to tour the way I work. What matters to me now is spending as much time in the studio as I can, trying to make a good album."
The songs on The Sensual World reveal the care and effort Bush puts into her music. "I suppose I'm obsessive about my work," she says. "There are so many areas on an album. It's only ten songs, but it's an incredibly huge challenge to come up with something completely new from the last album, and it encompasses so many areas. It's like researching for a book, or for five books."
As with Bush's first single, a book inspired the title track on The Sensual World. The song is loosely based on the closing passage of Jame Joyce's Ulysses. The track opens with Bush provocatively whispering, "Mmh, yes/Then I'd taken the kiss of seedcake back from his mouth/Going deep South, go down, mmh, yes."
"I came up with the idea of the word yes," says Bush, "and I suddenly thought, 'God, wouldn't it be interesting to play around with Molly Bloom's soliloquy?' and I went and got the book, and the words just worked to the music. It was extraordinary. I've never had anything like that happen before, and it was very exciting." But when she tried to get permission to use the text, she was refused. "I tried several times, and they were just absolutely adamant." Instead of shelving the song, Bush came up with a new approach. "To reapproach it was quite painful, especially having to let go of what I thought was obviously a classic piece of literature that I felt worked with contemporary music. Gradually it started to unfold into this idea of Molly Bloom stepping away from her author, into the sensual world."
That world seems to envelop nearly all of Bush's characters on the album. "Most of my songs are about relationships and telling stories," she says, "and relationships cover so many different intensities of emotions. To me, that's what songwriting is about: human relationships and telling stories."
Bush herself has been in a long-term relationship with bassist Del Palmer, who was the album's engineer. (Kevin Killen, whose last credit was Elvis Costello's Spike, mixed the album.) The songs on The Sensual World intertwine synthesizers with folk instruments, such as uilleann pipes, bouzouki, Celtic harp, mandolin and tupan (some of which are played by Paddy Bush). "Paddy always had a tremendous interest in ethnic music and instruments," Kate says. "He's really been very inspirational, exposing me to different cultures." Three tracks were recorded with Bulgaria's Trio Bulgarka. "They are my three sisters," she says, brightening. "They're very affectionate people, and they spent most of the time coddling me. It was a very special experience musically as well as on a human level."
Despite her emotional approach to her music, in her own life Bush wants to be in complete control. "Within my work, I am very much so," she says. "You absolutely have to be, because otherwise people will sh*t you left, right and center. You have to hang on to your original intentions, and I think that's one of the hardest things for people to do. It's not easy to keep space in life anyway. And it's certainly not easy when you're supposed to be a public person. I try very hard to keep privacy in my life. And it helps me termendously. I'd want to go completely mad. I don't see what my private life has got to do with my music. Although obviously there's a lot of me in my music. It's my music I feel I want to give to the world, and not myself."
Bush's lack of participation in her label's promotional efforts may have had a hand in her lack of support in the States. "It's impossible to say," she says. "I think the fact that the second and third album weren't released her didn't fully keep up any kind of profile here." (Nonetheless, 1985's Hounds of Love did produce a Top Thirty hit for Bush in the United States, "Running Up That Hill.")
And Bush, while willing to promote her new album, is unwilling to promote herself. "There's not that much known about me, and what is known is so diverse," she says. "There have been at least five books out. It's a continual problem for me dealing with people's preconceptions of me. It's very difficult to get people to take me as I am. That's why I want my work to speak for me Because that's what comes from my heart."
"The pull and the push of it all..." - Kate Bush
Marvick - Hill
Willker - Mapes
Grepel - Love-Hounds