Home Music Discography Discography: Kate Bush: The Kick Inside

Discography: Kate Bush: The Kick Inside

Kate Bush’s career could easily have been another recording industry casualty. Her beginnings read like the introduction to one of those cautionary tales: a young woman fronting a band whose demo tape lands her a major label contract, only for the label to convince her to cast her band aside. The presence of a who’s who of the titans of British prog (most notably David Gilmour) only serve to underscore how things could have gone wrong for Bush at the start of her career. Such was the strength of her artistic vision, then, that The Kick Inside exists in the way that it does. Despite all the people getting involved and trying to craft her career for her, Bush created something wholly singular for her debut album.

To be clear, the Kate Bush that people came to adore did not arrive fully formed out of the ether on The Kick Inside, much as we would have liked her to do so. In comparison to what would come, the album is pretty straightforward rock, albeit rock filtered through a very prog lens. Indeed, while Gilmour’s presence is felt through the use of guitar throughout the album, Bush’s influences here are more arch and conceptual prog bands like The Alan Parsons Project (unsurprising, given how many members played on The Kick Inside) and Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. What’s different, though, is while those bands were obsessed with intricate epics that spanned double and sometimes triple albums, Bush prefers to condense those complex ideas into the form of a pop song. It’s Bush’s ear for pop that keeps The Kick Inside from becoming the sort of self-involved prog album that was quickly becoming passe in 1978. Something like “The Saxophone Song,” with its chorus of trailing, skronking sax, could have been a drawn-out mess in the hands of anyone else, but Bush makes it into something appealing and almost sweet.

Bush’s persona, even in this unfinished form, goes a long way to making The Kick Inside such an impactful record. Her voice, which was already an impossible sound that has yet to really be replicated by human beings, lends everything an air of mysticism, yet it also has malleable qualities that Bush applies as necessary to each song. She sounds playful and whimsical on “Kite,” a song that has the lighter-than-air qualities of its title. Then she sounds alternately mournful and insightful on “The Man with the Child in His Eyes.” A few songs later, she fills “James and the Cold Gun” with a palpable sense of anxiety and fear (apparently based on Bush’s real-life discomfort with guns), while the closing title track is filled with tragedy of mythic proportions. She’s in control of every aspect of these songs, which pushes back against the thought that she was ever intended to be a conduit for anyone else’s ideas. Kate Bush owns every moment of this album, as she should.

Readers will notice that I’ve gone on for a bit without mentioning one important aspect of The Kick Inside, and that’s because “Wuthering Heights” deserves an aside all to itself. This song is an utterly remarkable piece of music that remains captivating with each listen. What’s more impressive is how easily it could have been the sort of novelty that would have sunk Bush’s career. In concept, a re-telling of Emily Bronte’s novel in song is not necessarily the sort of thing that careers are built on. Yet, what makes the song work is that Bush isn’t recounting the whole book; instead, she inhabits the character of Catherine as she longs for her doomed, impossible-yet-irresistible relationship with Heathcliff. She sings the chorus with the same yearning despair of the character, yet she infuses it with a modern dramatic sweep that makes the implicit desires in the original story more explicit. This idea of longing and desire, both in a sexual and romantic sense, would be one of the main themes Bush would explore as her career progressed, equating that desire with a sense of the sublime. That doesn’t happen without the success of “Wuthering Heights.”

Even if it’s the most conventional-sounding album that Kate Bush ever released, The Kick Inside is not as conventional as it seems. Brimming to the rim with ideas and forms of artistic expression, the album crucially lacks the sort of ego and pomposity that so many other artists were bringing to the table at the time. Chalk it up to Bush’s youth (some of these songs were written when she was 15) or her relative inexperience in the pop sphere, but it makes The Kick Inside a remarkable beginning to one of the most singular voices pop music has ever known.

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