Home Music Discography Discography: Kate Bush: Aerial

Discography: Kate Bush: Aerial

When Kate Bush faded from view after 1993’s The Red Shoes, she did so at a time when the airwaves in the UK started to reflect a pop landscape that, if not aesthetically indebted to her, nonetheless felt like a realization of the sort of ambition and weirdness she showed could be popular. As left-field weirdos like Björk and Aphex Twin became household names, Bush’s absence stood out like a sore thumb, as if the queen of art pop had, Lear-like, abdicated prematurely and left her spiritual successors to duke it out. Thus, when a new album was at long last announced fully a dozen years later, the same press that had spent years mocking Bush as a dropout recluse abruptly kicked into mega-hype mode, feverishly anticipating the return of the pop maverick.

From a narrow point of view, Aerial might be called a conservative gesture of re-introduction, openly modeled as it is on the structure of Hounds of Love and thus primed for immediate ratification and celebration by those who kept the faith. In every other respect, however, this double album is as radical a work as she ever made, less an attempt to make up for lost time than an immediate reminder of her genius. You can hear it in the eerie guitar wash and not-quite-dark ambient pulses of noise that open the album with “King of the Mountain.” Had the track come out in the ‘90s when first written, it might have been accused of drafting along behind the electronica craze. But Bush and her musicians quickly establish a three-dimensional space where errant beeps and notes ping high and low, front-and-center and deep in the distance. Lyrically, the track muses on the legacy of Elvis and the possibility that he lives, and it even interrupts its fannish reveries for pointed confrontations like “Why does a multi-millionaire/ Fill up his home with priceless junk?” Apart from the mild rockabilly twang of Dan McIntosh’s chords, the song swaps any attempt to mimic Elvis for a kind of operatic rendering of celebrity, capturing the whistling wind referenced often in the lyrics to turn Elvis’s fall into a kind of mythic Götterdämmerung.

Not to be outdone for sheer ambition, the rest of the album’s first disc finds Bush slipping effortlessly between the abstruse and intimate. On “Pi,” she recites more than 100 digits of the infinite number (albeit with some omissions and errors) solely to make the point that even something as concrete and unemotional as pure numbers could be infused with soul and longing. That track is situated next to “Bertie,” Bush’s tribute to her and McIntosh’s son rendered against a Renaissance folk backdrop. “Joanni” tells the story of Joan of Arc to Del Palmer’s groaning, grooving bass and rubbery percussion in a bit of trip-hop revivalism. Even the most stripped-down tracks, like the piano-led “Mrs. Bartolozzi” and “A Coral Room,” make for bravura performances, particularly the latter as Bush gathers steam with circling chords to hint at the roiling tension beneath her gentle eulogy to her late mother.

In a nod to the b-side of Hounds, the second disc is devoted entirely to an extended suite entitled “A Sky of Honey” that at one point Bush so clearly insisted to be heard in one go that a 2010 reissue lumped the entire disc into one 42-minute track. Compared to the frantic imagery of water and drowning that defined Hounds’s “Ninth Wave,” “A Sky of Honey” is sun-kissed and elegant, charting in Ulysses-esque fashion a single day from one birdsong-livened sunrise to another. From the moment Bush’s vocals enter on the “Prologue,” the wistfulness is palpable, as when she sings “So Summer will be gone/ So you’ll never grow old to us” and hints at a bittersweet quality under the chiming piano. Bush contemplates the inspirations and frustrations of artists on “The Architect’s Dream” and “The Painter’s Link,” conveying the stultifying nature of writer’s block and the little thrills of figuring out even a single brushstroke. “Just a smudge/ But what it becomes in his hands,” she marvels, delighting in the very idea of art being made.

As the suite enters into dusk and darkness, Bush maintains a sense of whimsy even while adapting to the different tone of night. “Somewhere in Between” sounds like trip-hop cool jazz, its stuttering snares and yawning bassline giving a nightclub vibe to more ambient swells of synthesizer. “Nocturn” is string-laden electro-psychedelia, all notes sustained until they recede as if to a vanishing point, then “Aerial” ends the album with climbing chords that rise with the sun. Crystal clear guitar notes ring out over floating organ trills. “All of the birds are laughing/ Come on let’s all join in,” Bush jubilantly entreaties after an extended call-and-response of birdsong and her own laughter, ending Aerial on a giddy note that even includes a raucous guitar break. Bush had previously adapted Molly Bloom’s final monologue in song, but here she sounds like Finnegans Wake’s Anna Livia Plurabelle, the living embodiment of the cycle of rivers from source to mouth. As she fades out into the sounds of nature, she sounds reborn, a fitting atmosphere for a record that swiftly reaffirmed her artistic credibility as the UK’s greatest pop visionary.

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