The Precocious One

Kate Bush and Sea
Image courtesy of

For some it’s the voice: ethereal, sensuous and operatic are a few of the more common attempts at description. For others, it’s the progressive rock-influenced lyrical dexterity and experimental instrumentation, often an amalgam of electronic loops, sound effects, and “primitive” percussion. And then, of course, there are the leotards.

All aspects of Kate Bush, and there are many, conspire to drive you to love or hate her work. Today, her late 70s theatrical aesthetic, tempered by the lens of 80s music video art (not to mention hair styles), can appear a bit precious if not touched, leading one to wonder what drives such a devoted following. Is it just one of those inexplicable, positively British things?

Her mainstream hits such as the early and defining “Wuthering Heights,” “Running Up That Hill,” and “This Woman’s Work,” combined with her collaborations with Peter Gabriel (“Games Without Frontiers,” “Don’t Give Up”), retain the timbre and spirit of excess that Kate Bush embodies. A kind of modern day Maya Deren, eyes wild and lips puckered, she is as comfortable humming number sequences (“Pi”) as chirping with birds (“Aerial Tal”), both from last year’s much anticipated if uneven Aerial.

Musically and lyrically, her most accomplished effort is also my first introduction, 1985’s Hounds of Love. Highlights include the insistent If of the aforementioned “Hill,” the swooning vocals and lazy banjo of “Cloudbusting,” and the second part of the album, a 20 + minute concept piece entitled “The Ninth Wave,” that stretches from the invocation (“Little light!”) of “And Dream of Sheep” to the creepy imagery of “Under Ice” to the slow-motion chants submerged in the closing bars of “Hello Earth” (back in the day my 90 minute cassette tape cut short the redemptive waking of the final track “The Morning Fog,” leaving me forever plummeting).

Cross-posted to Shake Your Fist on September 27, 2006.