Put on a retainer by the label to allow her to complete school, Kate spent the time writing more songs and performing at pub gigs in venues across south-east London. She finally entered the studio to record The Kick Inside in 1977, when she was just turning 19. The 13-song set came out in February the following year, after Kate had insisted that the first single to be lifted from the album should be ‘Wuthering Heights’. She was right. Her memorable, haunting melody and charismatic performance was a sensation and shot to No.1 in the UK, making her the first female vocalist from Britain to top the charts with her own composition. It also went on to do strong business in many other markets – with the notable exception of the US – and would win her an Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding British Lyric.
‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes’ swiftly returned Kate to the British Top 10, but EMI was keen to capitalise on the momentum and persuaded her to quickly record a new album. Kate would later regret racing back to the studio and it would be one of the last times her work was largely shaped by the influence of others. Lionheart, rush-released in November of the same year as her debut, was less successful than The Kick Inside and only yielded one major hit in ‘Wow’, which peaked at No.14 in the UK. A 28-date nationwide tour called The Tour Of Life helped promote the record, but it was to be the last time Kate would go on the road for more than 30 years.
By 1980 and Never For Ever, her third album, Kate had broken away by setting up her own publishing and management company, and producing her own material. This determination to do it her own way rewarded Kate with her first chart-topping album and big hits in ‘Babooshka’ and ‘Army Dreamers’. With her work blending imaginative themes and dramatic promotional interpretation, Kate’s commercial fortunes were consistent and her artistic reputation was soaring. She guested on Peter Gabriel’s hit ‘Games Without Frontiers’ and was continuing to win further industry awards, including another Ivor Novello Award.
It was business as usual when the stopgap single ‘Sat In Your Lap’, released in July 1981 and preceding its parent album by more than a year, got to No.11. But when The Dreaming finally hit the shops amid an exploding new pop scene dominated by The Human League and Duran Duran, the 10 songs struggled to find much of an audience and the set became Kate’s lowest selling to date, with three of its four singles failing to even trouble the UK Top 40.
Kate retreated to her new purpose-built studio, and it was to be another three years before her masterpiece – and a critical and commercial triumph – was revealed. The Hounds Of Love became Kate’s biggest album and returned her to the top of the charts, knocking chart goliath Madonna off the peak slot. Crucially, ‘Running Up That Hill’ was also a huge launch single and finally gave Kate some cut-through in the US, where it peaked at No.30 on the Billboard Hot 100. More hits followed with ‘Cloudbursting’, the album’s title track and ‘The Big Sky’, with each supported by strong videos that went into steady rotation on MTV and the growing number of similar music platforms worldwide. EMI capitalised on this renaissance with the 1986 compilation The Whole Story – another multi-platinum seller – which was supported by the standalone single ‘Experiment IV’. It came as no surprise that Kate was decorated with even more awards, including a Brit for Best Female Artist. After duetting with Peter Gabriel on 1987’s ‘Don’t Give Up’ from his huge-selling So, she would respond by withdrawing from the promotional merry-go-round to spend time crafting her next release.
1989’s The Sensual World lacked the commercial clout of its predecessor, but contained the well-regarded title track and, perhaps, Kate’s most tender ballad, ‘This Woman’s Work’, which first featured in the cult 80s movie She’s Having A Baby. The era was also characterised by another brief run of more consistent activity with a contribution to an Elton John and Bernie Taupin tribute album that was swiftly culled for a single. Her cover of ‘Rocket Man’ made UK No.12 and was named “best cover ever” in a national newspaper poll, 16 years later. She also made an appearance in a TV play by The Comic Strip team and produced a track for singer and harpist Alan Stivell.
The Red Shoes was released in November 1993 and the cameo-heavy 12-track collection was a companion piece to Kate’s last long-form visual work to date, the short film The Line, The Cross And The Curve, but it was a project she would later dismiss. In 1994, she covered George Gershwin’s ‘The Man I Love’ for a tribute album, but as events in her personal life, including the death of her mother and, in 1998, the birth of a son, started to dominate, high-profile appearances by the singer became rare and releases even scarcer. She moved from her home in Eltham, south-east London, to Berkshire and then to Devon.
The silence finally broke with Aerial in 2005, which was preceded by a high-charting single, ‘King Of The Mountain’, which returned her to the UK Top 5 for the first time in 20 years. The ambitious album followed a format established by Hounds Of Love, comprising one collection of linked but independent songs and a longer set on what, in the vinyl era, would have been the second side. The album sold solidly but Kate’s promotional appearances to support it were limited and critical acclaim outstripped its commercial performance. None of this would likely have mattered to the enigmatic artist who was more determined than ever that her output be appreciated on its own terms.
A manifestation of this maverick sensibility had long been demonstrated by an unflinchingly honest assessment of her own work. On reflection unhappy with elements of her later records, Kate would rework songs from The Sensual World and The Red Shoes for a project she called Director’s Cut. The move confounded critics puzzled by the approach she had taken with these well-liked albums, but the 2011 package reached No.2 in her homeland and featured vocals from her son Albert, who would go on to perform with her at the 2014 shows.
If fans were less surprised by this move, they were to be blindsided by the uncharacteristic haste of Kate’s next studio set, which reached shops just six months after Director’s Cut. 50 Words For Snow was Kate’s highest-profile return to seasonal themes since the Christmas 1980 single ‘December Will Be Magic Again’. This seven-track collection of atmospheric compositions was another critical success and generated a rare public appearance when she turned up to accept a South Bank Sky Arts Award for the release. Though she later declined to perform during the London 2012 Olympic ceremonies, a remixed version of ‘Running Up That Hill’ was offered to the organisers and, after its airing in a choreography sequence, returned Kate to the Top 10 of the UK singles charts once again.
After the excitement of the 2014 live dates and the Top 10 success of the companion album, Before The Dawn, in 2016, no one is laying bets that there will be new Kate Bush material any time soon. She admits that preparation for the tour had been all consuming, and pushes back with a ferocious dignity when challenged about the balance she has struck between her family commitments and the creative draw of her work. It’s art, for certain, but the mystique that pervades her life has more than a flavour of the showman about it, which will make the next release – whenever it comes – as magical as ever.
Kate Bush's first album, The Kick Inside, released when the singer/songwriter was only 19 years old (but featuring some songs written at 15 and recorded at 16), is her most unabashedly romantic, the sound of an impressionable and highly precocious teenager spreading her wings for the first time. The centerpiece is "Wuthering Heights," which was a hit everywhere except the United States (and propelled the Emily Brontë novel back onto the best-seller lists in England), but there is a lot else here to enjoy: The disturbing "Man with the Child in His Eyes," the catchy rocker "James and the Cold Gun," and "Feel It," an early manifestation of Bush's explorations of sexual experience in song, which would culminate with "Hounds of Love." As those familiar with the latter well know, she would do better work in the future, but this is still a mightily impressive debut. Words: Bruce Eder
Proving that the English admired Kate Bush's work, 1978's Lionheart album managed to reach the number six spot in her homeland while failing to make a substantial impact in North America. The single "Hammer Horror" went to number 44 on the U.K. singles chart, but the remaining tracks from the album spin, leap, and pirouette with Bush's vocal dramatics, most of them dissipating into a mist rather than hovering around long enough to be memorable. Her fairytale essence wraps itself around tracks like "In Search of Peter Pan," "Kashka From Baghdad," and "Oh England My Lionheart," but unravels before any substance can be heard. "Wow" does the best job at expressing her voice as it waves and flutters through the chorus, with a melody that shimmers in a peculiar but compatible manner. Some of the tracks, such as "Coffee Homeground" or "In the Warm Room," bask in their own subtle obscurity, a trait that Bush improved upon later in her career but couldn't secure on this album. Lionheart acts as a gauge more than a complete album, as Bush is trying to see how many different ways she can sound vocally colorful, even enigmatic, rather than focus on her material's content and fluidity. Hearing Lionheart after listening to Never for Ever or The Dreaming album, it's apparent how quickly Bush had progressed both vocally and in her writing in such a short time. Words: Mike DeGagne
Never for Ever has Kate Bush sounding vocally stable and more confident, taking what she had put into her debut single "Wuthering Heights" from 1978 and administering those facets into most of the album's content. Never for Ever went to number one in the U.K., on the strength of three singles that made her country's Top 20. Both "Breathing" and "Army Dreamers" went to number 16, while "Babooshka" was her first Top Five single since "Wuthering Heights." Bush's dramatics and theatrical approach to singing begin to solidify on Never for Ever, and her style brandishes avid seriousness without sounding flighty or absurd. "Breathing," about the repercussions of nuclear war, conveys enough passion and vocal curvatures to make her concern sound convincing, while "Army Dreamers" bounces her voice up and down without getting out of hand. "Babooshka"'s motherly charm and flexible chorus make it one of her best tracks, proving that she can make the simplest of lyrics work for her through her tailored vocal acrobatics. Words: Mike DeGagne
Four albums into her burgeoning career, Kate Bush's The Dreaming is a theatrical and abstract piece of work, as well as Bush's first effort in the production seat. She throws herself in head first, incorporating various vocal loops, sometimes campy, but always romantic and inquisitive of emotion. She's angry and pensive throughout the entire album, typically poetic while pushing around the notions of a male-dominated world. However, Kate Bush is a daydreamer. Unfortunately, The Dreaming, with all it's intricate mystical beauty, isn't fully embraced compared to her later work. Album opener "Sat in Your Lap" is a frightening slight on individual intellect, with a booming chorus echoing over throbbing percussion and a butchered brass section. "Leave It Open" is goth-like with Bush's dark brooding, which is a suspending scale of vocalic laments, but it's the vivacious and moody "Get Out of My House" that truly brings Bush's many talents for art and music to the forefront. It prances with dripping piano drops and gritty guitar, and the violent rage felt as she screams "Slamming," sparking a fury similar to what Tori Amos later ignited during her inception throughout the '90s. Not one to be in fear of fear, The Dreaming is one of Kate Bush's underrated achievements in depicting her own visions of love, relationships, and role play, not to mention a brilliant predecessor to the charming beauty of 1985's Hounds of Love. Words: MacKenzie Wilson
Kate Bush's strongest album to date also marked her breakthrough into the American charts, and yielded a set of dazzling videos as well as an enviable body of hits, spearheaded by "Running Up That Hill," her biggest single since "Wuthering Heights." Strangely enough, Hounds of Love was no less complicated in its structure, imagery, and extra-musical references (even lifting a line of dialogue from Jacques Tourneur's Curse of the Demon for the intro of the title song) than The Dreaming, which had been roundly criticized for being too ambitious and complex. But Hounds of Love was more carefully crafted as a pop record, and it abounded in memorable melodies and arrangements, the latter reflecting idioms ranging from orchestrated progressive pop to high-wattage traditional folk; and at the center of it all was Bush in the best album-length vocal performance of her career, extending her range and also drawing expressiveness from deep inside of herself, so much so that one almost feels as though he's eavesdropping at moments during "Running Up That Hill." Hounds of Love is actually a two-part album (the two sides of the original LP release being the now-lost natural dividing line), consisting of the suites "Hounds of Love" and "The Ninth Wave." The former is steeped in lyrical and sonic sensuality that tends to wash over the listener, while the latter is about the experiences of birth and rebirth. If this sounds like heady stuff, it could be, but Bush never lets the material get too far from its pop trappings and purpose. In some respects, this was also Bush's first fully realized album, done completely on her own terms, made entirely at her own 48-track home studio, to her schedule and preferences, and delivered whole to EMI as a finished work; that history is important, helping to explain the sheer presence of the album's most striking element -- the spirit of experimentation at every turn, in the little details of the sound. That vastly divergent grasp, from the minutiae of each song to the broad sweeping arc of the two suites, all heavily ornamented with layered instrumentation, makes this record wonderfully overpowering as a piece of pop music. Indeed, this reviewer hadn't had so much fun and such a challenge listening to a new album from the U.K. since Abbey Road, and it's pretty plain that Bush listened to (and learned from) a lot of the Beatles' output in her youth. Words: Bruce Eder
An enchanting songstress, Kate Bush reflects the most heavenly views of love on the aptly titled The Sensual World. The follow-up to Hounds of Love features Bush unafraid to be a temptress, vocally and lyrically. She's a romantic, frolicking over lust and love, but also a lover of life and its spirituality. The album's title track exudes the most sensually abrasive side of Bush, but she is also one to remain emotionally intact with her heart and head. The majority of The Sensual World beams with a carefree spirit of strength and independence. "Love and Anger," which features blistering riffs by Bush's mentor and cohort David Gilmour, thrives on self-analysis -- typically cathartic of Bush. Michael Nyman's delicate string arrangements allow the melodic "Reaching Out" to simply arrive, freely floating with Bush's lush declaration ("reaching out for the star/reaching out for the star that explodes") for she's always searching for a common peace, a commonality to make comfort. What makes this artist so intriguing is her look toward the future -- she appears to look beyond what's present and find a peculiar celestial atmosphere in which human beings do exist. She's conscious of technology on "Deeper Understanding" and of a greater life on the glam rock experimental "Rocket's Tail (For Rocket)," yet she's still intrinsic to the reality of an individual's heart. "Between a Man and a Woman" depicts pressure and heartbreak, but it's the beauty of "This Woman's Work" that makes The Sensual World the outstanding piece of work that it is. She possesses maternal warmth that's surely inviting, and it's something that's made her one of the most prolific female singer/songwriters to emerge during the 1980s. She's never belonged to a core scene. Bush's intelligence, both as an artist and as a woman, undoubtedly casts her in a league of her own. Words: MacKenzie Wilson
Fierce Kate Bush fans who are expecting revelation in Aerial, her first new work since The Red Shoes in 1993, will no doubt scour lyrics, instrumental trills, and interludes until they find them. For everyone else, those who purchased much of Bush's earlier catalog because of its depth, quality, and vision, Aerial will sound exactly like what it is, a new Kate Bush record: full of her obsessions, lushly romantic paeans to things mundane and cosmic, and her ability to add dimension and transfer emotion though song. The set is spread over two discs. The first, A Sea of Honey, is a collection of songs, arranged for everything from full-on rock band to solo piano. The second, A Sky of Honey, is a conceptual suite. It was produced by Bush with engineering and mixing by longtime collaborator Del Palmer.
A Sea of Honey is a deeply interior look at domesticity, with the exception of its opening track, "King of the Mountain," the first single and video. Bush does an acceptable impersonation of Elvis Presley in which she examines his past life on earth and present incarnation as spectral enigma. Juxtaposing the Elvis myth, Wagnerian mystery, and the image of Rosebud, the sled from Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, Bush's synthesizer, sequencer, and voice weigh in ethereally from the margins before a full-on rock band playing edgy and funky reggae enters on the second verse. Wind whispers and then howls across the cut's backdrop as she searches for the rainbow body of the disappeared one through his clothes and the tabloid tales of his apocryphal sightings, looking for a certain resurrection of his physical body. The rest of the disc focuses on more interior and domestic matters, but it's no less startling. A tune called "Pi" looks at a mathematician's poetic and romantic love of numbers. "Bertie" is a hymn to her son orchestrated by piano, Renaissance guitar, percussion, and viols.
But disc one's strangest and most lovely moment is in "Mrs. Bartolozzi," scored for piano and voice. It revives Bush's obsessive eroticism through an ordinary woman's ecstatic experience of cleaning after a rainstorm, and placing the clothing of her beloved and her own into the washing machine and observing in rapt sexual attention. She sings "My blouse wrapping itself around your trousers/Oh the waves are going out/My skirt floating up around your waist...Washing machine/Washing machine." Then there's "How to Be Invisible," and the mysticism of domestic life as the interior reaches out into the universe and touches its magic: "Hem of anorak/Stem of a wall flower/Hair of doormat?/Is that autumn leaf falling?/Or is that you walking home?/Is that a storm in the swimming pool?"
A Sky of Honey is 42 minutes in length. It's lushly romantic as it meditates on the passing of 24 hours. Its prelude is a short deeply atmospheric piece with the sounds of birds singing, and her son (who is "the Sun" according to the credits) intones, "Mummy...Daddy/The day is full of birds/Sounds like they're saying words." And "Prologue" begins with her piano, a chanted viol, and Bush crooning to romantic love, the joy of marriage and nature communing, and the deep romance of everyday life. There's drama, stillness, joy, and quiet as its goes on, but it's all held within, as in "An Architect's Dream," where the protagonist encounters a working street painter going about his work in changing light: "The flick of a wrist/Twisting down to the hips/So the lovers begin with a kiss...." Loops, Eberhard Weber's fretless bass, drifting keyboards, and a relaxed delivery create an erotic tension, in beauty and in casual voyeurism.
"Sunset" has Bush approaching jazz, but it doesn't swing so much as it engages the form. Her voice digging into her piano alternates between lower-register enunciation and a near falsetto in the choruses. There is a sense of utter fascination with the world as it moves toward darkness, and the singer is enthralled as the sun climbs into bed, before it streams into "Sunset," a gorgeous flamenco guitar and percussion-driven call-and-response choral piece -- it's literally enthralling. It is followed by a piece of evening called "Somewhere Between," in which lovers take in the beginning of night. As "Nocturne" commences, shadows, stars, the beach, and the ocean accompany two lovers who dive down deep into one another and the surf. Rhythms assert themselves as the divers go deeper and the band kicks up: funky electric guitars pulse along with the layers of keyboards, journeying until just before sunup. But it is on the title track that Bush gives listeners her greatest surprise. Dawn is breaking and she greets the day with a vengeance. Manic, crunchy guitars play power chords as sequencers and synths make the dynamics shift and swirl. In her higher register, Bush shouts, croons, and trills against and above the band's force.
Nothing much happens on Aerial except the passing of a day, as noted by the one who engages it in the process of being witnessed, yet it reveals much about the interior and natural worlds and expresses spiritual gratitude for everyday life. Musically, this is what listeners have come to expect from Bush at her best -- a finely constructed set of songs that engage without regard for anything else happening in the world of pop music. There's no pushing of the envelope because there doesn't need to be. Aerial is rooted in Kate Bush's oeuvre, with grace, flair, elegance, and an obsessive, stubborn attention to detail. What gets created for the listener is an ordinary world, full of magic; it lies inside one's dwelling in overlooked and inhabited spaces, and outside, from the backyard and out through the gate into wonder. Words: Thom Jurek