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Special Artists: Kate Bush
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Special Artists: Kate Bush
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Kate Bush
Moments of Pleasure

June 17, 2006

I received the latest Kate Bush album, Aerial, in the mail yesterday, and just finished listening to it a few minutes ago. I had to wait until I could be by myself and listen to both discs (it's a double-album) in their entirety, through headphones, with my eyes closed. I don't do that anymore for various reasons, but that's how I used to listen to every single album I bought, no matter what it was. I became a music lover later in life than many people, but once I got into it, I devoted myself fully. Every work by every artist, I felt, should be given the benefit of a thorough listening, without the insult of distractions. Many people think this is claptrap, and it may be. But I have found kindred spirits in the world, people who devote themselves to an album in this same way; and by no strange coincidence, they're all musicians.

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Special Artists: Kate Bush
Like I said, I don't really do that anymore, not because I no longer believe in it, but because I basically don't have the opportunity to do so. But there was no way I was NOT going to do it for Kate Bush. Music gives different things to different people, and so it can be hard to explain why one likes a certain song or artist, or why a certain piece of music affects one the way it does. But there are some artists who flip a switch in people, and like eyewitnesses touched by the mother ship in Close Encounters, these fans share something very meaningful that other people could never understand. That's what Kate Bush did for me, and here's why this will be a cynicism-free post: It was Kate Bush who first made me appreciate women in music. As you might have guessed, for someone who for five years has run a radio station dedicated to women in music, that makes her a pretty big deal. And what makes Aerial an even bigger deal is that it is the first album released by Kate Bush in an agonizing 12 years. But why did I wait even longer to hear it? After all, the album came out in November, 2005. The answer is that vicious worm planted by a demonically greedy music publisher: The Sony rootkit. I won't re-hash the details (click on the link if you're not familiar with this latest affront from the most hateful corporation in a hateful industry), but suffice it to say that my principles stood in the way of my love for the artist. At least until I forgot why I hadn't bought it, and added Aerial to my Amazon shopping cart. Anyway, back to Kate's influence on me (I wouldn't call her by her first name in person, it's just easier in the context of this writing): The odd thing is, I was exposed to her music fairly early on, but didn't particularly care for her at the time. That's because the songs I happened to hear were some of her nuttier ones, and to be honest, she has a whole slew of nutty songs that just don't grab me the way they do other people. There are also songs, such as "Don't Give Up", her duet with Peter Gabriel, in which Kate barely sings above a hush. But if I'd heard "Cloudbusting" first, I would've been hooked instantly. It wasn't until I read a favorable review of The Sensual World that I bought that CD (one of the first albums I bought on that new medium) and fell hard. I then checked out her greatest-hits album The Whole Story, wondered why her first single, "Wuthering Heights" (released in 1978 when she was 17 years old) hadn't been a huge hit in the USA, and bought more of her back catalog. She had me. Kate Bush matters because she has always dared to experiment, and by doing so has pushed the boundaries of what a female pop star can be and accomplish. A perfectionist, she stopped touring in 1978 because she felt she could not properly convey with staging the imagery found in her music. But to see footage of her last tour is to witness an incredibly theatrical show, with grandiose staging and complex choreography that bring to mind the creative epics that Janet Jackson would put on -- 20 years later. I even read somewhere that Kate Bush designed the first headset microphone for stage use. When people call her an originator, they really mean it. That, in a nutshell, is the other reason I am so enamored with Kate: Her exceptional talents outside of music. Once she'd given up on stage shows, she embraced music videos -- years before there was an MTV to play them. By the mid-80's, she was directing many of her own videos (I believe the outstanding "Experiment IV" was her first), eventually culminating in the long-form video album of The Red Shoes. All of Kate's albums were critical successes, and her studio experimentation always went over well with the press (although her most acclaimed album, 1982's The Dreaming, was my least favorite musically, I appreciate its audacity and ambition). She could be downright silly at times, but then whiplash around in the next track and give you a heartbreaking ballad. Indeed, what makes Kate's ballads so effective is that they're intensely personal. She often employs anecdotes about people beloved to her, some of whom are no longer with us, and often the result is that, for one simple moment, you are feeling what she was feeling when she wrote and recorded the song. That is a particularly brilliant type of artistic talent. Aerial, then, is the story of Kate's musical life. It has the piano, the beautiful melodies,

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Special Artists: Kate Bush
the silliness, the experimentation, the love of family and friends, and the respectful nod to hundreds of years of British musical tradition, which have been a part of her musical output in one way or another since she burst upon the scene as a teenager. Disc one, entitled "A Sea of Honey", opens with "King of the Mountain", an ode to...Elvis Presley? With a wink, Kate wonders whether Elvis is still out there somewhere, In the snow with Rosebud / And king of the mountain. And yet, this otherwise whimsical song is given gravitas by a gorgeous melody and Kate's unique voice. Most of "A Sea of Honey" is equally whimsical, including "Mrs. Bartolozzi", which sounds like a somber ballad about domestic servitude, until you realize it's just Ms Bush taking the piss out of her fastidious housekeeper. "Bertie" is a heartfelt ode to her son, who was born in 1998, and whose existence the reclusive Kate managed to keep a secret from the press for almost three years. Perhaps a later track, "How to Be Invisible" was inspired by Kate's own driving desire for privacy. But overall, "A Sea of Honey" was starting to leave me a little flat. It was cute in places, but it veered too far into the oddball territory that sits less well with me than it does with other Kate Bush fans. That is, until the last track on the disc, "A Coral Room", turned around and gobsmacked me by being a tribute to Kate's late mother: My mother and her little brown jug / It held her milk / And now it holds our memories. It reminded me of another touching line about her mother, from the song "Moments of Pleasure" (from her last album, 1993's The Red Shoes): And I can hear my mother saying / "Every old sock meets an old shoe." / Ain't that a great saying? I'll be damned if that song doesn't make me well-up just thinking about it. And with "A Coral Room", just like before, Kate was back in full force, turning my heart into hers, making me feel what she felt, and leaving me in tears. That is what I always hope to experience with a Kate Bush album. We could all stand to shed real tears once in a while. It also made me wonder what those of us who are lucky enough to have loving mothers, are doing to honor them. Disc two, "A Sky of Honey" is the more freeform, orchestral opus. Some have called this "the experimental disc" to disc one's "pop disc", but to be honest, there isn't much that's radio-friendly on either one. But "A Sky of Honey", in which we are with Kate as she watches a summer day transition to night, and back to sunrise, is the more beautiful, and the final two tracks are as evocative as anything I've heard since probably Kate's own "The Ninth Wave" (as the second movement of her album Hounds of Love is known). In fact, I think that "A Sky of Honey" trumps the earlier work by being more cohesive. "Prelude", "Prologue" and "The Painter's Link" are all lovely orchestral pieces (arranged by the late Michael Kamen, who passed away of Multiple Sclerosis only weeks after finishing his work on Aerial) which set the mood quite well. "Aerial Tal" has Kate dueting with a songbird, but instead of whistling, she mimics the bird's own sounds with her voice. But it's the aforementioned closing tracks, "Nocturn" and "Aerial", which truly left me in awe. "Nocturn" uses striking imagery, both musical and lyrical, to let us follow along with Kate as she explores the night itself, or perhaps dreams about doing so. The song transitions from a quiet orchestral intro to a simple arrangement with acoustic guitar, bass, piano and percussion; but the instruments and chorus build as the story progresses, until it finally culminates in a sort of rapturous jam session. If you didn't know that the song was about 8 1/2 minutes long, you'd assume that it was half that. Finally, "Aerial" lets us witness the sunrise along with Kate, as the prolific birds (the album is chock-a-block with 'em) return, intriguing Kate with their song until she finally wants to jump on the roof, up to their perch on the aerial, to join them. The song is a counterpart to "Nocturn", similar in tempo and scope, if not in melody. By the end of it, I would've been happy to jump onto a roof with Kate, so convincing was the feeling behind the song. Other people may listen to the same album and wonder what the hell we Kate fans are smoking. It may seem spacey or somehow "girly"; her voice is often high and childlike. If you're ambivalent, or even negative about Kate Bush, remember that I was once, too. But scratch the surface of her catalog, and you are bound to find something that will move you in a positive way. That voice that can (intentionally) sound high or shrieky on one track, will soar with unbelievable power on the next. And to top it all off, she still

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looks fantastic.

Special Artists: Kate Bush

Kate Bush is one of the handful of artists who were directly responsible for me liking, loving and appreciating music. She was an originator in her field, and still is. She is, to use a phrase that I never apply lightly, a musical genius. Thank you, Kate.

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