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Womanly work
The return of the inimitable Kate Bush
Related Links

Kate Bush's official Web site

Twelve years have passed since Kate Bush’s last release. What was she doing all that time? Nothing, and everything. There is recurring imagery on Aerial of "women’s work," of mothering and household chores ("washing machine, washing machine" she repeats like a mantra on one track). Bush has spent the past decade-plus tending her home, raising her son, and working sporadically on the new album. In contrast to the widescreen drama of 1985’s Hounds of Love and 1982’s The Dreaming (both Columbia), Aerial keeps a microscopic focus on the mundane stuff of life. Which is not to say that the microscopic stuff is insignificant.

Bush has always made music that could have sprung only from a female psyche, full of feminine sexuality and eccentricity. Her melodies don’t build to one big climax; they rise and fall on shimmering waves. Her childlike voice refuses to behave; she’s often helium-shrill and unruly. She writes about messy relationships, messy passions, messy bodies, messy minds. Even in her long absence from public life, Bush has influenced a whole school of women artists — Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan, Alanis Morissette, and Fiona Apple, to name four. Bush has always mattered. And at 47, she has never mattered more.

Aerial is a mysterious, meditative work reminiscent of Joni Mitchell in her Hissing of Summer Lawns/Hejira period, in both its music (the upright bass and piano jazz of "Sunset") and its themes. At that point in her career, Mitchell began writing about the inner lives of older women who were becoming invisible in a culture of glittery youth. Bush takes up the cause with a smirk on "How To Be Invisible." With its spidery guitar lines and witty take on the witches’ incantation from Macbeth ("Eye of Braille/Hem of anorak/Stem of wallflower/Hair of doormat"), the song celebrates the coiled power of ignored and underestimated women.

Sneaky and hypnotic, Aerial’s watercolor wash of symphonic and electronic textures becomes more defined with repeated listenings, just as Bush’s portraits of seemingly placid hearth and home reveal unexpected twists and depths. The first disc, "A Sea of Honey," loosely strings together songs about retreating into private worlds. The Elvis Presley references of "King of the Mountain" may be a little tired, but the electronica beats are contemporary and seductive. From the bosom of domesticity comes Bush’s song for her son, "Bertie," a charming Maypole dance played on traditional Renaissance instruments. "Lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely Bertie," trills Bush. She packs a breathtaking treatise on the all-consuming nature of maternal love into three deceptively simple lines: "You bring me so much joy/And then you bring me/More joy."

The memory of her late mother propels the gorgeous "A Coral Room," with its womblike imagery of water and fishing nets. But the masterstroke of disc one is the washing-machine song, "Mrs. Bartolozzi," a hushed piano-and-voice reverie broken by moments of unsettling silence. The song earns its allusion to Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway when the title character (possibly a widow) lets her mind wander from her washday chores to an erotic recollection (or fantasy) of passion.

"A Sky of Honey," the bewitching suite that takes up all of disc two, depicts the sensual pleasures of a day in the English countryside, from the trill of birdsong (a recurring sound on Aerial) to the changing quality of the sunlight to the fall of velvety night. Did I mention that Bush is singing all of this from a bird’s perspective? When she tries to imitate the twittering birdsong samples and breaks into peals of runaway laughter, the effect is that of joy flitting along the border of madness. It’s quintessential Kate Bush.


Issue Date: November 25 - December 1, 2005
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