Home Music Discography Discography: Kate Bush: Lionheart

Discography: Kate Bush: Lionheart

A few years back, people feared Kate Bush identified as a Tory. It reached enough of a fevered pitch, likely due to her stans who (most likely) identify as left-leaning, that Bush put out a statement denying such rumors and explaining her (very girlboss) defense of powerful women politicians was taken out of context.

It is easy to take individual pieces of celebrities and use them to flesh out our perception of who they are; this is a problem for fans and celebs alike. When I first heard “Wuthering Heights” at 16, I took it as a joke – even today as a Kate Bush fan, I still do. That wailing soprano pining for a puppy killer is campy as well as complex. “I’m not pleased with being associated with such soft, romantic vibes, not for the first single anyway,” she said of the track. Despite that, “Wuthering” set the stage for what the public and her label wanted from this teenage ingénue. They wanted it fast, resulting in her second album, Lionheart, following quickly on the heels of her debut.

Where “Wuthering Heights” introduces us to Kate Bush’s strange sense of humor, Lionheart expands upon it. The cover, her unmasked as the titular lion, depicts the braveheart as elaborate costume. Fame, maturity, and glory – she flaunts them the way children play dress-up with their parents’ old staples. She wears the views and stories of others just to see how they fit her. The concerns of the closing tracks, where narrators fear poisoned food and vengeful specters, are accompanied by goofy, muted brass instruments and theatrical rock, respectively.

On one hand, Bush’s impersonations offer compelling observations on the variations of perception from person-to-person. One person’s abuser is another’s chance at warmth; someone’s near-death experience is another’s musical theater. On the other, and in Lionheart’s case, her characterizations also run the risk of hollowness and, to some, even objectification.

With Lionheart, you watch Kate Bush testing the limits of her talent and the world at large. Opener “Symphony in Blue” plays with the word “blue” itself, repeating it in different contexts as if to point out the absurdity of language, a trick she uses two songs later with “Don’t Push Your Foot on the Heartbrake.” By “Symphony”’s fourth verse, she lands, somewhat inelegantly, on the word “sex.” It brings the listener’s gaze from the sky back down to her, a woman at the start of adulthood and her career, both of which she finds comical. Same as the opening track, “Wow” repeats its title until it loses meaning, adulation oversaturated into mindless worship. Bush understood the simultaneous rush and ridiculousness of celebrity; here, the conclusion comes in the form of gloomy piano, a disillusionment foreshadowing her now well-known reclusiveness.

Lionheart tidbits like those point toward the artist to come. Years before she struck deals with deities, she began envisioning perspectives from persons other than her own. “In Search of Peter Pan” embodies a young child dreaming of future accomplishments “when I am a man.” “In The Warm Room” is described by Bush herself as “aim[ing] a lot of the psychology . . . at men.” She certainly nails the male gaze, though little about the song’s tone or lyrics hint at any sort of rebuke or challenge to it. Sadly, the song’s ambiguity marks it with a slightly misogynistic interpretation, intentional or not. Bush would likely deny this, but it would require clarification similar to her explanation behind her “defense of women in power.”

Riffing on that, her ode to country, “Oh England My Lionheart,” can suffer from misreads of its own. She speaks of “fading fast” and evokes grandiose images from the past, suggesting a yearning for the empire of old that could be interpreted as nationalist. However, her connection to England consists of tender nostalgia she recognizes as little more than a fantasy. “I don’t want to go” it concludes, as if sleep approaches the edges of a dream.

Lionheart’s boundless curiosity towards the (very specific) lives of others naturally sets Bush’s mind in a million different directions. What exactly do those two men get up to together in that house? What feelings arise when you take your dead colleague’s job? And what do all these thoughts mean? With “Fullhouse,” she designates even the anxious thoughts a-whizz in her mind as another form of theatrical entertainment. Significantly, this track stands as one of the few where the spectacle centers on her, and, to her credit, she gives it the same dramatics as the stories she borrows from others.

Ultimately, the shortcomings of the album are not so much faults as they are missteps, ones that can be attributed to a young artist still testing the span of her talents by attempting new risks.

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