Kate Bush

2005: Columbia 82796 97772 2

    A Sea of Honey

  1. King of the Mountain
  2. π
  3. Bertie
  4. Mrs Bartolozzi
  5. How to Be Invisible
  6. Joanni
  7. A Coral Room

    A Sky of Honey

  1. Prelude
  2. Prologue
  3. An Architect’s Dream
  4. The Painter’s Link
  5. Sunset
  6. Aerial Tal
  7. Somewhere In Between
  8. Nocturn
  9. Aerial

“It was just so beautiful, it was just so beautiful, it was just so beautiful…!”

There aren’t 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 I’ve learned over the years is that Kate’s best enjoyed on headphones, where you can fully envelop yourself in the tapestry she’s 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. I’d 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 album’s 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. It’s about Elvis Presley, to a degree. Read my review of the single, I’m 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”—that’s 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 it’s 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 that’s done in a Renaissance troubadour style that almost crosses the line between Sweet and Saccharine. She’s totally in love with her son, and he’s part of the concept-album CD. Personally, I could do with a lot less of Bush’s adoration and involvement of Bertie; this track is just a blip on the Treacle Radar in that regard.

I-4: Mrs Bartolozzi. A housewife reminiscing about doing some housework and transforming the washing machine’s 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 you’re standing right behind me / Little fish swim between my legs”—

—well, it gets pretty intense, and it’s 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 also appreciate the reverent awe of her singing “Washing machine” (yes, just that term) each time, because it combines with the introductory lament (about having to clean up her sloppy man’s tracked-in mud and clothes) to suggest strongly to me that this is the voice of a woman of Kate’s mother’s generation…for whom a washing machine would indeed long be a wondrous relief of near-magical properties alleviating so much drudgery.

Playing this track once during a late work stretch at my office in Seattle one evening also gave me the rare treat of seeing a normally super-unexpressive architect actually crack up after what struck him as one too many such “Washing machine” iterations. The bizarrely tender absurdity of it all finally broke him, in a way not unlike how certain Monty Python bits can overload unaccustomed Americans’ hard-wired logic sensors.

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, it’s quite clearly comprehendible. The chorus’s 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 d’Arc 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.” I’d be curious to hear how a pre-teen girl responds to this one…it’s a beautiful, beautiful moment of historical fantasy, with a gooey-groovy rhythm base, and in its latter half Kate’s whispering in French (“Elle parle à Dieu et aux anges…”…and at the end there’s “ah! les Voix! les Voix!” [“O! the Voices! the Voices!”] but she’s 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 it’s definitely its own unique step forward, and there’s 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: “There’s 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 / It’s 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 they’re saying, and about the journey through a lovely midsummer afternoon and sunset and night and dawn. The through-night-to-day theme here isn’t 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 they’re saying words,” while Kate does an impressive cooing-pigeon imitation while saying something muffled within the sound—I’m hearing “come closer, Bertie! come closer, Bertie!” Fasten your seatbelts, because we’re 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 that’s to come: “What a lovely afternoon….” Near the end she sings a little Italian tribute to Rome—“Roma Roma mia / Tesoro mio, bella / Pieno di sole luce / Bali cozi bene, bene / Pianissimo / Pianissimo”—after 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 Architect’s Dream. Follows after only the vaguest of pauses in the Prologue’s 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 architect’s dream.” At the end it’s revealed that he’s painting on a sidewalk, and it starts to rain….

II-4: The Painter’s Link. The colors run together and become a beautiful…

II-5: Sunset. “This is a song of colour,” and of rich rich rich imagery. It’s a song to say goodnight by hailing the splendor of sunset—read 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. It’s 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 that’s filling the sky on this spread of the booklet.

II-6: Aerial Tal. Kate bird-speaking over a chording piano treble continuo. You’ll just have to hear this to believe it. It’s 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 that’s just ending. This is a track that improves with repeated listenings, always yielding more mithril and gold as well as simple agricultural abundance. It’s far more than it first seems like. While it’s a continuation of the Prologue, essentially, it’s so much more to me: it’s like nothing Kate’s produced before (except maybe “The Sensual World"), but rather a natural extension of much of her body of work, it’s Kate ahead of where we last saw her, about the expected distance from there but in a slightly different trajectory than was expected, and she’s got all these new stamps on her passport and has a new certain-something to her walk…she’s 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 it’s a night shining with moonlight and Kate’s standing in the coastal waters of the Atlantic. It’s 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 don’t usually think of tranquility as being something danceable, but that’s 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 who’s 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 it’s like she cross-bred “Get Out of My House” and “Rocket’s 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 aren’t written in the lyric booklet, but she’s definitely singing them! There’s a bit of “Big Stripey Lie” involved here, but otherwise it’s just great New Kate. Midway through she pairs birdsong and her own laughter—not interwoven and fused, as I’d been led to expect from advance commentaries about this track, but merely alternated like a conversation or a translation. And then we’re back to the thumping for the rest of the song and it’s the pounding of our wings as we fly wildly and deliriously through the sunrise. Dan McIntosh’s 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 it’s 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 can’t think of a thing to complain about here! Two addenda, however, because I don’t know where to go back and tuck them in: first, Kate’s 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 don’t know if anyone else out there is incorporating piano so elementally these days, but it’s a refreshing joy here under Kate’s fingertips.