You have to hand it to Kate Bush. If you're going to leave a twelve-year gap between album releases, then returning with a double album set that clocks in at over 80 minutes is a good way of compensating for your absence. Like Hounds Of Love before it, Aerial is one part traditional album of individual songs, one part a thematic song suite. They were respectively subtitled A Sea Of Honey and A Sky Of Honey.
Kicking off the album was the hit single King Of The Mountain, which we learnt had actually been recorded sometime in the mid-1990s. When heard in the context of the album that makes sense, as it seems closer to Kate's work on The Red Shoes than what we soon found was an altogether different approach to songwriting she had explored on the more recent tracks.
On π, Kate experimented with singing numbers rather than words, telling the story of a man obsessed with calculating that mathematical constant. The music is gloriously cyclical and shimmery, providing a perfect setting for the calculation that she takes to well over 100 decimal places. Kate somehow imbues the numbers with real feeling, ensuring the track never feels like a gimmick. It is a rare example of art and science combining to create something unique and special.
If any fans were still questioning why Kate had been away so long, then the next track would surely silence even the most cynical voice. Bertie is simply the most beautiful outpouring of love from a mother to her child. Of course this is Kate Bush, so the song is written in the Renaissance style, with suitably period instruments. Glorious.
I remember having a conversation with someone about Mrs. Bartolozzi. It went along the lines of:
HIM: I can't get into the new material. Take that one about washing machines, who wants to listen to a song about laundry?
ME: That song isn't about laundry. Madonna has a new disco album out, you might want to try that.
I guess some people's minds can't escape the literal. Only Kate could find poetry, drama and mystery in the spin cycle.
I'm not entirely sure whether How To Be Invisible is fictional, or whether Kate truly has learnt the spell that allows you to vanish. Someday I plan to gather the ingredients she suggests and find out. If anyone does know the secret, it would be her.
Sometimes you hear something on a Kate Bush track and you just know that nobody else on the planet would do that. Joanni is incredibly atmospheric, conjuring battlefields, cannons, smoke and war, with Joan of Arc standing resolute amongst it all. Towards the end, the song melds into what I can only describe as a Muppet chorus. It is completely barking. It is completely brilliant. Only Kate.
The final track on A Sea Of Honey is, in my view, one of the most startling and brilliant compositions in all of popular music. A Coral Room begins like a classic Kate piano ballad, but it is an evolutionary step in her songwriting. Kate takes a simple remembrance of her mother and creates a tapestry of emotions, images, memories, questions and notions in both words and melody. It is like she is mainlining emotion. Halfway through listening to this song for the first time, from nowhere I just burst into tears; an instinctual response, not an intellectual one. If Kate had delivered just this one song after twelve years, it would have been enough.
So, as usual, Kate had treated us to a very diverse range of subjects and styles on the first half of Aerial. There was a marked difference in sound and song structure compared to her previous albums. There was more space, more time taken, the songs are allowed to breathe and develop without the pressure of being "radio friendly". It was clear Kate had not stood still as an artist or tried to recapture how things were before. This time it felt like she was finally making an album for herself, with no compromises. And the best was yet to come...
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