Sunday, November 18, 2018


Given her long silences, it's been a virtual hurricane of activity in the Kate Bush world of late. This decade has seen her rework some of her material into a whole new album (Director's Cut), release another new one (50 Words For Snow), return to the stage for a limited run of London shows, and put out a full live album from that. Now comes the big bonanza, box sets of her entire studio work, vinyl or CD, remastered. The first set has arrived, covering the early years, and the rest will show up in a couple of weeks.

On CD, Remastered Part 1 covers her first seven studio albums, ending with 1993's The Red Shoes, when she took a 12-year break. This is certainly her most popular era, which peaked in 1985 with the huge success of Hounds Of Love. Many of us had already become devotees by then, right from her first notes heard in 1978, from the remarkable album The Kick Inside. While those two are her very best I'd venture, every album she's made is fascinating and worth owning and lingering over. This is a great way to fill holes in your collection and dive in. It's certainly rekindled my interest.

The Kick Inside was certainly like nothing else in 1978, and there really hasn't been anyone similar to Bush since. Still in her teens, a prodigy brought to light by Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd, she was certainly out of time with those punk years of England, singing about Wuthering Heights and strange phenomena and imitating a saxophone, with a voice that stretched over a couple of octaves and pierced the soul. She wasn't a child or an adult, more like a sprite, feeling very British circa 19th century at times, modern at others, and above all, sensual in all aspects. Songs such as The Man With The Child In His Eyes and Them Heavy People remain powerful favourites.

Follow-up Lionheart came very fast, that same year, since Bush had plenty of songs stored up. While it includes gems such as Oh England My Lionheart and Symphony In Blue, it wasn't quite as commanding as the debut. But it did get a little louder and less fanciful, with big rockers Hammer Horror and Don't Push Your Foot On The Heartbreak proving she could dish it out in the volume department.

A short break (for her) followed, and in 1980 she was back with a vengeance and a lot of growth. Bush was now producing herself, and much of the lushness of her early work was gone. Now she was making big songs and big sounds, and the album Never For Ever was her first to feature the Fairlight synthesizer, which she used to great advantage over the next several albums. She continued with fascinating songwriting, coming up with full narratives in four minutes for hits such as Breathing, Army Dreamers and Babooshka. A huge hit in England, it made her the top female artist of her day in that country.

On a roll, Bush followed up with The Dreaming in 1982, and while a hit, it was more experimental, especially in its second half. She looked to other cultures for sounds, bits she could sample and layer on with the Fairlight. Her voice was lowering as well, giving her a more cinematic feel, which worked well with her story-songs, such as There Goes A Tenner, which feel like movies. That would work well on her next album.

The Hounds Of Love hit at the heyday of MTV, and Bush's visual imagery was ripe for the medium. Her own hits, The Big Sky, Running Up That Hill and especially Cloudbusting, as well as her memorable duet with Peter Gabriel on Don't Give Up, made her a star in North America as well, and the album was another #1 in England, and on the best-of-the-year lists for many critics. It was easier to digest after the experimental The Dreaming, with the first half devoted to those catchy tracks. But side two saw her going back to conceptualization, as she presented a suite called The Ninth Wave, about someone floating adrift in the ocean. With all its parts and voices, it's a fascinating listen.

With success comes freedom, and for Bush that meant working at her own leisurely pace. It was a full four years until her next release, The Sensual World, and now she was emboldened to create a full album in the vein of The Ninth Wave. She picked up on the James Joyce novel Ulysses and rich and sensuous language, how it could be hypnotic and exciting. Sounds became as important as lyrics and melodies, and she incorporated Irish instruments and dialogue, and in a brilliant move, brought in the vocals of The Trio Bulgarka from Bulgaria. While none of the tracks were hits you could hum, this was stuff to take home and study and get lost in.

A further four years went by before The Red Shoes, another conceptual piece, also accompanied by a short film, The Lion, The Cross and The Curve. The album takes its name from the 1948 British film, about a dancer who can't take off her shoes, but the visuals aren't important to the music. The songs are much more straightforward and self-contained, especially the single Rubberband Girl. It's a funky, sensual number obviously indebted to Prince, who shows up as a collaborator on another track, Why Should I Love You? Eric Clapton appears as well, and it seemed Bush might be edging back to the pop world. Nope. She instead disappeared for a full 12 years. But that's another box set.

Sometimes these multi-album collections get cheaper packaging for the individual discs, but that's not the case here. Each one has a new three-fold jacket, and a booklet featuring the lyrics to each song. Handy that, I finally found out what she was signing in half those early songs. No matter, it all sounds fresh and groundbreaking, and quite a creative arc too.

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