2005: Columbia 82796 97772 2
A Sea of Honey
A Sky of Honey
It was just so beautiful, it was just so beautiful, it was just so beautiful !
There arent many albums that make me say holy SHIT! even once; Disc 2 of Aerial elicited at least three of those on first listening. Then again, I wisely played it on headphones, because one thing Ive learned over the years is that Kates best enjoyed on headphones, where you can fully envelop yourself in the tapestry shes so richly embroidered for us, and that you should play it LOUD.
Aerial is so brilliantly pure and cohesive that it makes The Red Shoes look like a stop-gap effort by comparison. Highest points: the dazzlingly sensual Mrs Bartolozzi which eclipses The Sensual World in terms of sensuality. Id had enough unwanted advance notice of the bizarreness of Mrs Bartolozzi, but what I actually heard blew all commentaries into insignificant shreds with its rapturous intimacy and beauty.
The title track, the albums closer, was so gloriously sweeping that I had to play it three times in a row right away to make sure I was truly hearing so much beauty. But really this album screams for a track-by-track review (and I originally wrote most of this as an advance review for a friend who was wondering what the album was like), so here it is:
CD I: A Sea Of Honey
I-1: King Of the Mountain. Its about Elvis Presley, to a degree. Read my review of the single, Im not going to repeat myself here.
I-2: π. An extraordinarily tender and moving song about a sweet and gentle and sensitive man with an obsessive nature and deep fascination for numbers and a complete infatuation with the calculation of Pi"thats the first verse, verbatim, and on the choruses she sings the numbers, lovingly, out to 116 decimal places. Reminiscent of both The Sensual World and, surprisingly, The Kick Inside. As with the number itself, it never quite resolves and seems to repeat itself, only to shift just a bit, always eluding absolute definition . Elliptical and gorgeous and so very sweet. And its entirely appropriate that Bush, queen of that milieu, should celebrate this quandary in song.
I-3: Bertie. An unabashedly direct celebration of her son Bertie thats done in a Renaissance troubadour style that almost crosses the line between Sweet and Saccharine. Shes totally in love with her son, and hes part of the concept-album CD.
I-4: Mrs Bartolozzi. A housewife reminiscing about doing some housework and transforming the washing machines work into an amazingly sexual metaphor. I watched them going round and round / My blouse wrapping itself around your trousers / Oh the waves are going out / My skirt floating up around my waist / As I wade out into the surf / Oh and the waves are coming in / Oh and the waves are going out / Oh and youre standing right behind me / Little fish swim between my legswell, it gets pretty intense, and its all so delicately and languidly sung, a bit like In The Warm Room on Lionheart but without the high reedy voice she had then. A stunning stealth-bomb of sensuality, and lovingly hilarious.
I-5: How to Be Invisible. Similar territory to Lily on The Red Shoes but with a sound more like Between a Man and a Woman or Top of the City, and lyrics which are cryptic but not obscurely so, its quite clearly comprehendible. The choruss incantation of the spell is great: Eye of Braille / Hem of anorak / Stem of wallflower / Hair of doormat. Exquisite and dark.
I-6: Joanni. Sung as someone adoring Jeanne dArc in person, complete with wartime scenario: Joanni, Joanni wears a golden cross / And she looks so beautiful in her armour / Joanni, Joanni blows a kiss to God / And she never wears a ring on her finger. Id be curious to hear how a pre-teen girl responds to this one its a beautiful, beautiful moment of historical fantasy, with a gooey-groovy rhythm base, and in its latter half Kates whispering in French (Elle parle à Dieu et aux anges and at the end theres ah! les Voix! les Voix! [O! the Voices! the Voices!] but shes definitely talking about the voices she heard of Ste Catherine and Ste Margaret in there). Musically it reminds me of Deeper Understanding from The Sensual World, but its definitely its own unique step forward, and theres some seriously weird stuff going on in the background scene (and occasionally the foreground as well, actually). Yay!!! I ♥ weird Kate stuff. :^)
I-7: A Coral Room. One for her mother, a kind of companion-piece to The Fog on The Sensual World which evokes her father. Rich with imagery: Theres a city, draped in net / Fisherman net / And in the half light, in the half light / It looks like every tower / Is covered in webs / Moving and glistening and rocking / Its babies in rhythm / As the spider of time is climbing / Over the ruins. Extremely tender. Also sort of a twin to And Dream Of Sheep, as it is the point of departure into the concept album half of Aerial, which is :
CD II: A Sky Of Honey
A Sky Of Honey is all about sky as canvas, about birds and what theyre saying, and about the journey through a lovely Midsummer afternoon and sunset and night and dawn. The through-night-to-day theme here isnt the same as on The Ninth Wave, where night is danger and the unknown; the only dark emotion here is wisps of tristesse. Everything else is unhurried delight and wonder, and birdsong, always bird sounds here and there.
II-1: Prelude. Bertie saying Mummy Daddy The day is full of birds. Sounds like theyre saying words, while Kate does an impressive cooing-pigeon imitation while saying something muffled within the soundIm hearing come closer, Bertie! come closer, Bertie! Fasten your seatbelts, because were back in the world of The Ninth Wave and Under Ice and Watching You Without Me (two of my favorite Kate tracks, BTW).
II-2: Prologue. Top Of the City meets Cloudbusting. Sets the tone of anticipation for all thats to come: What a lovely afternoon . Near the end she sings a little Italian tribute to RomeRoma Roma mia / Tesoro mio, bella / Pieno di sole luce / Bali cozi bene, bene / Pianissimo / Pianissimoafter a lovely image: Oh so romantic, swept me off my feet / Like some kind of magic / Like the light in Italy / Lost its way across the sea.
II-3: An Architects Dream. Follows after only the vaguest of pauses in the Prologues path and starts with a painter (Rolf Harris) talking to himself briefly as he works. Possibly allegorical for God making the world, but in any case a gently sensuous appreciation of a painter and his art. The title comes from the end of the second verse: Curving and sweeping / Rising and reaching / I could feel what he was feeling / Lines like these have got to be / An architects dream. At the end its revealed that hes painting on a sidewalk, and it starts to rain .
II-4: The Painters Link. The colors run together and become a beautiful
II-5: Sunset. This is a song of colour, and of rich rich rich imagery. Its a song to say goodnight by hailing the splendor of sunsetread that literally or allegorically as you wish, as you will with the lyrics when you actually have this playing with the booklet in your hand. Its lovely piano-and-voice stuff with very gentle bass and just a hint of soft drumming until the end, which swells into a Flamenco-tinged Spanish guitar fiesta that perfectly evokes a certain shade of dusk-tinged red-orange thats filling the sky on this spread of the booklet.
II-6: Aerial Tal. Kate bird-speaking over a chording piano treble continuo. Youll just have to hear this to believe it. Its a transition piece here which sets the stage for part of the final track.
II-7: Somewhere In Between. Just as night begins one last savoring of the day thats just ending. This is a track that improves with repeated listenings, always yielding more mithril and gold as well as simple agricultural abundance. Its far more than it first seems like. While its a continuation of the Prologue, essentially, its so much more to me: its like nothing Kates produced before (except maybe The Sensual World"), but rather a natural extension of much of her body of work, its Kate ahead of where we last saw her, about the expected distance from there but in a slightly different trajectory than was expected, and shes got all these new stamps on her passport and has a new certain-something to her walk shes so calmly, confidently happy. And the end of the song is a nod to Bertie, which explains plenty.
II-8: Nocturn. See the previous paragraph only now its a night shining with moonlight and Kates standing in the coastal waters of the Atlantic. Its stars in the sky and milky water, footprints on the beach and diving into dreams, all delivered with a still-a-bit-stronger drum/bass/guitar engine I dont usually think of tranquility as being something danceable, but thats what this is. Night, night ending, and dawn sung into daybreak (the latter by the kind of chorus that has the dialogue with the Captain on Constellation Of the Heart on The Red Shoes).
II-9: Aerial. Daybreak, by someone whos clearly more of a morning person than I am! This thumps along gloriously for most of its nearly-8 minutes with the combined energy of all the other tracks, and its like she cross-bred Get Out Of My House and Rockets Tail and taught the offspring to fly. The chorus of this 6-beat-pattern marcher is great: I feel I want to be up on the roof! / I feel I gotta get up on the roof! / Up, up on the roof! / Up, up on the roof! The exclamation points arent written in the lyric booklet, but shes definitely singing them! Theres a bit of Big Stripey Lie involved here, but otherwise its just great New Kate. Midway through she pairs birdsong and her own laughternot interwoven and fused, as Id been led to expect from advance commentaries about this track, but merely alternated like a conversation or a translation. And then were back to the thumping for the rest of the song and its the pounding of our wings as we fly wildly and deliriously through the sunrise. Dan McIntoshs electric guitar work keeps this chugging along with edgy brilliance and just that extra bit of sharpness. This is an album-closer unquestionably the work of the creator of The Dreaming!
It actually ends with a coda of birdsong and day-sound, but for me its the last Get Out Of My House"-like laughing rhythm chorus that ends this track, the coda ending the album.
All in all, something great from Kate. I cant think of a thing to complain about here! Two addenda, however, because I dont know where to go back and tuck them in: first, Kates in fine voice, extraordinarily rich voice actually, which is a wondrous surprise, and second, both her piano composition and playing are thrillingly integral and lovely I dont know if anyone else out there is incorporating piano so elementally these days, but its a refreshing joy here under Kates fingertips.
Comments © 2005 Mark Ellis Walker, except as noted, and no claim is made to the images and quoted lyrics.