(My 100 favorite albums in chronological order: #19 – released September 13, 1982. Originally posted on Kriofske Mix, 12/7/2014)
Track listing: Sat In Your Lap / There Goes A Tenner / Pull Out The Pin / Suspended In Gaffa / Leave It Open / The Dreaming / Night Of The Swallow / All The Love / Houdini / Get Out Of My House
A year after I fell in love with Abbey Road, Kate Bush released “The Rubberband Girl”, the playful lead single from her seventh album, The Red Shoes. One of her few songs to get any radio airplay at home, it moved me to check out of the library The Whole Story, her greatest hits album which documented her career through 1986. Like Abbey Road, it was another leading portal into an aesthetic I never knew existed: here was this eccentric, high-voiced British woman with cool, strange, imaginatively arranged songs about everything from an Emily Brontë novel (“Wuthering Heights”) to nuclear apocalypse (“Breathing”). Furthermore, most of these were huge hits in the UK (with “Running Up That Hill” her only top 40 in the US) and she recorded all of them before turning thirty.
The Whole Story thoroughly intrigued me by suggesting what brave new worlds pop music could contain: An account of a father and daughter dabbling in rainmaking (“Cloudbusting”)? A wife who cunningly plays with gender roles by seducing her husband incognito (“Babooshka”)? Well, why not? Bush was a true original, not to mention a true weirdo. Perhaps the song that I found most fascinating was “Sat In Your Lap”: After a barrage of pounding, possibly synthetic drums leading the charge, Bush chirps brief, herky-jerky observational lyrics before shifting to full-on cray-cray mode for the operatic, nearly shrieked chorus: “Some say that KNOWLEDGE IS something sat in your lap! / Some say that KNOWLEDGE IS something that you never have!” She goes on to declare, “I must admit, juuuust when I think I’m king,” in a voice so immense and overly theatrical you begin to wonder whether she’s serious; what sets Bush apart from any of her peers is that you never doubt her sincerity, even when she makes WTF statements such as, “I want to be a lawyer / I want to be a scholar / but I really can’t be bothered.” In alternate contexts, “Sat In Your Lap” is either a palette-cleanser or a room-clearer. It reached #11 on the UK singles chart in 1981 and its music video (below) has to be seen to be believed.
I did not check out its parent album, The Dreaming, until five years later, mostly because I was a bit intimidated at the prospect of an entire record of this stuff. Its title track also appears on The Whole Story, and it makes “Sat In Your Lap” seem like “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” in comparison: over a droning, clanging, sound-collage backdrop liberally laced with didgeridoo and sinister animal noises, Bush sings in a heavy Aussie accent about the plight of the Aborigines. So effective is the world she conjures up in “The Dreaming” that it would give even Midnight Oil’s Peter Garrett nightmares (by the way, this was also a single, and it flopped). The Dreaming was Bush’s fourth album (at age 24!), and the first she produced herself. Later, she referred to it as her “I’ve gone mad album” and indeed, it seems noticeably more unhinged and excitable than her previous work, which was often fairly eccentric to begin with. However, by taking hold of the reins, Bush makes that Great Leap Forward with The Dreaming: confident, fearless, inventive and often insane, it negates any perceptions that Bush is a novelty or a precocious prodigy, correctly establishing her as an artist, an innovator and a force to be reckoned with.
“Sat In Your Lap” effectively opens The Dreaming but still barely hints at what is to come. “There Goes A Tenner” (another single that flopped) is somewhat more accessible, slightly mischievous fun. Inspired by classic film noirs (mentioning Humphrey Bogart and George Raft by name), it alternates Bush singing in a cockney accent over a daft, distinctly British oom-pah beat with dreamy interludes of her cooing in a lower voice, “Re-al-lit-eeee.” Dinky but catchy, odd but ending on a wistful note, it is, like practically everything else on The Dreaming, unclassifiable. That’s certainly an apt description for “Pull Out The Pin”, where Bush assumes the part of a Vietnam soldier. As with a majority of her compositions, her piano lays the foundation but up top and at the margins are a menagerie of sampled sounds: crickets, a whirring helicopter, even a guitar solo near the end that’s chewed up and spat out like a cubist painting. It a retains a pop song structure but gives Bush carte blanche to freak the fuck out, her repeated, exhaustive screams of “I LOVE LIFE!!!” providing the most immediate hook.
“Suspended In Gaffa” might be a novice’s best entry point into The Dreaming: over a bright and cheery waltz tempo that comes this close to resembling a merry-go-round on the verge of spinning out of control, Bush reiterates one of the album’s primary themes: she shouts a boisterous “I want it all!” in the bridge to the chorus, only to immediately, more softly concur, “We can’t have it all.” Shrouded in mystery (is “Gaffa” even a place or state of mind or is it a kind of constricting, tactile substance?) but disarmingly catchy, “Suspended In Gaffa” is the album’s best case for Bush as a Delightful Nutjob (to borrow a friend’s term). “Leave It Open”, however, is where things start to get really weird: it kicks off with a boom-clap stomp that could be an alternate universe version of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” before Bush’s heavily-treated vocal comes in and all bets are off. Featuring a call-and-response duet between high-pitched, possibly sped-up Kate and low, wobbly Kate, she also lets out a sinus-clearing wail before the full band kicks in and her subsequent warrior cries suggest she’s leading an army into battle. It’s as unclassifiable as “There Goes A Tenner” and it could not be more tonally different.
Here, the aforementioned title track is slightly longer than the single edit on The Whole Story, concluding with a fanfare of traditional Irish instruments (bagpipes, penny whistle and the like) that serves as a bridge to the remarkable “Night Of The Swallow”. A slow, stripped down piano ballad in its verses (certainly the album’s most introspective moments so far), it revs up the tempo in the choruses, which reprise the Irish fanfare, with Bush almost magically building up momentum and intensity until she exclaims, “Let me go!” as only she can. “All The Love”, the piano ballad that follows, is far more somber and possibly the album’s most normal and accessible song, although “normal” is a relative term when referencing a track with a minute-long outro full of sampled snippets of folks saying “goodbye”, “cheerio”, “take care”,etc; Still, it’s a direct but dreamy lament suffused with longing and resolve, anticipating Bush’s more mature later work. “Houdini” is a quintessential Bush composition about a famous figure and his tragic death; like the preceding two songs, it is also a slow piano ballad, but it keeps listeners on their toes as Bush’s vocal suddenly shifts to a thunderous, all-encompassing roar on the chorus, followed by a string quartet interlude and, at the end, an operatic chorale.
The Dreaming concludes with its angriest, most audacious track. On “Get Out of My House”, Bush distills the album’s various themes into a loud, swirling manifesto where she passionately defends herself against all threats to her well-being (they could be physical, mental or emotional, she’s not entirely specific). She exclaims, “This house is full of madness!”, which, given all that came before, is an understatement. But she triumphs, screaming the song’s title repeatedly until it becomes a mantra; Bush being Bush, she also inexplicably sings the bridge to the chorus in a funny voice that rather resembles a Frenchman catering to the Borscht Belt circuit and brays “HEE-HAW!” a few times towards the end as if she suddenly turned into a donkey. Like The Dreaming as a whole, “Get Out Of My House” is at once both gloriously empowering and an extreme, bat-shit-insane declaration of independence. It likely lost Bush some fans at the time, but I’m guessing it ended up endearing her to many more new and existing ones. I admired Bush before I ever heard The Dreaming, but once I did in full, she became (and unquestionably remains) one of my all-time favorite musical artists. We’ll be hearing from her again and soon.
Up next: we temporarily break with chronology to feature the oldest album I’ll be writing about in this project.
“Sat In Your Lap”:
“Suspended In Gaffa”: