Sunday, February 14, 2016

Album Reviews # 54 Kate Bush - The Dreaming

'You're listening to this on a record player in suburbia. And she takes you by the hand and you fly off through the sky like the snowman...' Comedian Steve Coogan on Kate Bush

Regardless of where you stand on Kate Bush, there are probably still some naysayers, Mark E. Smith probably the most notable among them, (though he would be, wouldn't he), it has to be said that she stands pretty much alone in recent musical history, in terms of her work, her persona and the way she's chosen to live her life. Bowie is probably the most immediate reference point, Bush was famously present as a young teenager at the last Ziggy Stardust gig at Hammersmith Odeon. But it's not as if any of her records actually sound anything like any of his. Bowie acts primarily as a guide to her modus operandi. Of seeing what she does as artistic statement, a mirror on the world and all its strangeness, humour, mystery,beauty, terror and love.

She was particularly odd and out of place on her arrival, with the release of her debut single, Wuthering Heights in January 1978, just as Punk was reaching critical mass and New Wave and Post Punk were beginning to formulate. She's quite impossible to bracket with any of that either, much more clearly categorisable with Prog than anything else, she was famously discovered and brought to record company attention by Pink Floyd's Dave Gilmour. But she's much more sensual and melodic and undoubtedly in your face than most of the records associated with that genre which is why the Bowie comparison still holds. A female version of him, which is just one reason why her tribute to him on his passing last month was probably as moving as any that was made at the time.

'David Bowie had everything. He was intelligent, imaginative, brave, charismatic, cool, sexy and truly inspirational both visually and musically.  He created such staggeringly brilliant work, yes but so much of it and it was so good. There are great people who make great work but who has left a mark like his? No one like him.
I'm struck by how the whole country has been flung into mourning and shock. Shock, because someone who had already transcended into immortality could actually die. He was ours. Wonderfully eccentric in a way that only an Englishman could be.
Whatever journey his beautiful soul is now on, I hope he can feel how much we all miss him.'

Bush herself is probably as close to the sheer, fearless spirit of Bowie as anyone we've still got, working in the same field. I've spent the last couple of days immersed in her back catalogue, reading interviews, reviews and watching documentaries about her since listening to The Dreaming, her quite remarkable album from 1982 all the way through for the first time, (thirty three years too late), on Wednesday and tracking down a vinyl copy for myself yesterday afternoon. I've been listening to it ever since.

It's a key album in her history, marking her break from the recording and marketing treadmill that EMI had forced her on for the first four years of her career. She produced the record herself, it took the best part of two years to write, develop and complete, and though it was a commercial and critical failure at the time of its release, (by the standards she'd already set for herself), in retrospect it's come to be seen as the stepping stone to all that came afterwards. I think it's a masterpiece and personally prefer it to The Hounds of Love, which came out three years later, is often credited as her finest work, and certainly was the record that re-established her in the eyes of the general public as well as the critical esteem of music writers and broadcasters, as if they really matter. I still think The Dreaming is a better record in many respects.

It's certainly an altogether odder proposition. It has indescribable texture and tone, as John Lydon, quite the most unusual big Kate Bush fan, said about the record.  It's his own personal favourite, which makes a kind of sense as it's closest in terms of general feel to the stuff he himself made. Kate herself has talked about it in interviews as a really angry record, which is very much against her own nature and very much against the basic character of most of the records she put out before or since. Most of them are contented in their own way and giving, although she's always obviously restless and shifting as an artist in terms of her work. Never more so than here though.

Making the most of modern recording technology, most obviously state of the art Fairlight synthesisers, it's a jarring stop-start affair, but at the same time a wholly cohesive album. Unlike with Hounds of Love and other later albums, there's no over-riding concept, the record is an exercise in shape-shifting with Bush adopting a different character, identity, style and often vocal accent for each track on the record.

Like all of Bush's records it's deeply sensual, but also in this case the most directly sexual record she's ever put out. Sometimes the needle threatens to rise off the vinyl given the sheer heat that's given off. In terms of subject matter Bush moves from a failed heist, to the Vietnam war, to Aboriginal homeland loss, personal exorcism and onwards. Forwards and backwards and forwards again. Every song has its particular subject matter but what it is never lost is the sheer pure intensity of performance and delivery.

I haven't tried to describe individual songs here because the record is best experienced as a whole and I don't really have time to do it full justice given the immediate demands of my nine to five. If you're after greater detail I'd direct you to this, a great recent Quietus article on the same subject matter. This gets it quite right in placing the album in its immediate historical and musical context, in 1982. In this respect it was as immediately contemporary as Bush ever got, she wasn't hugely out of step in some respects with Associates, ABC, Japan, Simple Minds and the whole great, ultimately failed campaign of New Pop.

Nevertheless, Bush as always is quite apart. Set forth on a sea of her own voyage of self-discovery and all the more cherishable for that. Towards creative and artistic independence, a space she eventually got to, to all of our long-term advantage.

The Dreaming is a quite claustrophobic, suffocating record in its full on intensity and all the better for its incredibly heightened desire, sensuality, texture and drive. Misunderstood and unappreciated at the time of its release but all the richer for it given the restoring test of time. Perhaps 1982 is best left to Duran Duran and the encroaching Thatcherite pop hoards of Howard Jones, Nik Kershaw, Kajagoogoo et al. None of them have a record that compares remotely with this!

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