I know what you are thinking: it is not the end of the month! You are quite correct. But May is Nick’s birthday month and he has been bestowed the honour of having Album of the Month in May, as he has done for the last two years. But, that said, I could not refrain from sharing this monumental masterwork with you. It is up there with the best Kate Bush albums (The Kick Inside and Hounds of Love being cornerstones of pop). I shall review each track individualy because they deserve to be heard. Walk Straight Down the Middle is a bonus track available on the CD release. It includes some sterling bass work from Japan bassist Mick Karn and bush making peacock sounds, which I was not aware would cheer me up as much as they did.
It might seem like an uncanny echo of her debut single—another literary character overcome by desire, fantasizing about rolling around in fields—but Bush wasn’t the same singer who’d loaded the gothic romance of “Wuthering Heights” with the life-and-death fervor of teenage lust. “Someone said in your teens, you get the physical puberty, and between 28 and 32, mental puberty,” she said in 1989. “It does make you feel differently.” Pitchfork
The album opens with the title track and some excellent church bells. These are followed by some, shall we say sensual vocals, and some jig reminiscent of the Jig of Life on her previous album.
Love and Anger follows in the theme of the album, this character overwhelmed by complex feelings and a slight deference to her male counterpart, perhaps. But musically Kate is completely in control – the energy of this track is hard to match, it is novel, striking and relentless. Her vocals remain terrifyingly agile and deeply moving. The addition of a wailing guitar on an already busy track only amplifies the greatness of the track.
Take away the love and the anger
And a little piece of hope holding us together
Looking for a moment that’ll never happen
Living in the gap between past and future
Take away the stone and the timber
And a little piece of rope won’t hold it together
The Fog is our executive relief, with vocals similar to that on her previous album. Listen to the guitar which comes in at 0.35 seconds. This ethereal blanket of music carries you through the track in the most… sensual way. The lyrics also have some echo to side 2 of Hounds of Love:
This love was big enough for the both of us
This love of yours
Was big enough to be frightened of
It’s deep and dark like the water was
The day I learned to swim
Reaching Out For the Hand tells of the joy of motherhood and a newborn baby’s tentative reaching our for its mothers hand. This track is home to some of the most exciting and uplifting passages in the whole album. Kate’s rhythmic howling leads to a staggering “reaching out for the hand…” and the violins! One is loathe not to melt from the love and energy in this track at this point alone.
Heads We’re Dancing continues on the energetic march to perdition. Would you believe it tells the story of a night out with Hitler. Bush told Q magazine in November 1989: “Years ago this friend of mine went to a dinner and spent the whole evening chatting to this fascinating guy, incredibly charming, witty, well-read, but never found out his name. The next day he asked someone else who’d been there who it was. ‘Oh, didn’t you know? That’s Oppenheimer, the man who invented the atomic bomb.’ My friend was horrified because he thought he should have given the guy hell, attacked him, he didn’t know what…” Bush then ran with the idea of the worst night out possible with a horrible man that one does not recognise. Listen out for the bass work from Mick Karn (from UK band Japan – a stern favourite of mine)
Deeper Understanding tells the story of Bush falling in love with her computer as alternative lovers turn cold around around her. The Fairlight CMI here is utilised to maximum potential to great an enormous sound, with suitable amounts of Bushean walling in the background. This is perhaps where The War on Drugs obtained their album title A Deeper Understanding from, but that is up for debate. The production is absolutely devastating throughout, with Karn’s bass puncturing the track throughout.
But she’d never sounded more grounded than she did on these 10 songs, most of which are about regular people in regular messes, not disturbed governesses, paranoid Russian wives or terrified fetuses. It was, she said, her most honest, personal album, and its stories play out like intimate vignettes rather than fantastical fairy tales. Unlike the otherworldly synth-pop-prog she pioneered on 1985’s Hounds of Love, she used her beloved Fairlight CMI to produce lusher, mellow textures, complemented by the warm, earthy thrum of Irish folk instruments and the pretty violins and violas of England’s classical bad boy, Nigel Kennedy. Pitchfork
Between a Man and a Woman sees the unexpected addition of flutes. Once again it follows the pattern of the album, creating vignettes of people / fictional character’s lives and displaying who they are, who they want to be and who they end up being. In this sense it is less of a thematic and conceptual juggernaut like its predecessor. The concept of this track is perfectly executed in the track, following the tumult of relationships which are under strain. The music follows the cycle of trauma and even tells the fictional interloper who enters and tries to give advice to the warring couple to back off.
Never Be Mine features vocals from the Trio Bulgarka which Bush fell in love with after hearing a tape of theirs. See them together below.
Okay, let’s talk about Rocket’s Tail. The high point of this album speaks about Kate’s dreams of being in the sky with the stars and fashioning herself a rocket to be able to do so. The rocket takes off and is accompanied by a moment of such musical force that my soul left my body the first time I heard it. The Trio Bulkara can be heard in the background supporting the rocket on its way up and back down some minutes later. Indeed a part of it still does on each subsequent listen. This is Kate at her musical apex, an astonishing work of pure unbridled genius which cannot be lauded enough.
This Woman’s work tells of the imbalance of womanhood in child rearing and the additional effort which women put in to motherhood. In a way it is a beautiful love letter to motherhood and the regrets which parents have. This sensational longing remonstrance is unsurprisingly among Bush’s most listened to tracks. If we listen to the lyrics it is really a very moving ode to women which rather deeply affected this reviewer. It is fitting of course that the original album tracks on this phenomenon should end here. What an excellent and devastating way to finish off an emotional rollercoaster. Kate is still embattled by the warring sentiments of love, lust, loneliness, passion, pain, and pleasure but moulds this anguish into a devastating work of superlative and enduring flawless beauty.
[A Woman’s Work] captures a moment of crisis: a man about to be walloped with the sledgehammer of parental responsibilities, frozen by terror as he waits for his pregnant wife outside the delivery room, his brain a messy spiral of regrets and guilty thoughts. Yet Bush softens the song’s building panic attack with soft musical touches so it rushes and swirls like a dream, even as reality becomes a waking nightmare. Pitchfork