King of the Mountain

Kate Bush

2005: EMI 0946364352420

  1. King of the Mountain
  2. Sexual Healing

It starts so gently and with such uncharacteristically mumbled lyrics that I truly had no idea where we were headed (if anywhere). I’d avoided reading reviews of the new album except for an initial smattering that I had to read to reassure myself that it wasn’t getting stupidly slammed by vapidly “contemporary” reviewers (in the way you look through your fingers at a really scary scene in a film), because I wanted as clean a slate of preconceptions as possible. As a result I have a minimal but helpful hint to start my first listening of Aerial off on the right foot, while I got to experience “King of the Mountain” with only the advance advice that it was about Elvis.

On the surface, sure, it’s about Elvis, or at least solidly addressing him as the subject, but it’s also deeper as a sociolocial/psychological comment on both the superficiality of stardom and its absurd power of fascination in popular culture. I love how Kate mixes in Citizen Kane’s boxcarful of implications and allusion with the deft and unhammered simple reference to Rosebud.

So much for the lyrics—at least for what I’ll try to say about them, whereas what I continue to find therein and how my observations shift & shimmer in appreciative reaction to Kate’s kaleidoscopic artistry will remain as internal and personal as it would be for anyone else—the recording itself is a masterpiece of subtlety. Every little wisp of wind sound and vocal moan in the background throughout works it like an incredibly subtle tornado.

The single’s cover art—a sketch by Kate’s son Bertie—actually helps deliver the song for me, unexpectedly, as it reinforces the ego aspect of stardom: “all is focused on me, everthing is about me” and “I want to be him,” all encapsulated in the single’s title.

I got gusts of goosebumps when Kate’s voice swept in chilly chords across the soundscape near the song’s wrapup. That reminds me: I gave it my first listening on quite good stereo speakers and my second on quite good headphones, partly Just Because and partly because a friend told me she’d heard the single somewhere (presumably online) and had found it weak; Kate Bush the artist is not weak, so I surmised that the playback method was the problem and made sure to avoid such a hamstrung introduction myownself.

It was fascinating and approaching lovely on speakers; on headphones it was dazzlingly superior, as the sound and music swirled and churned oh-so-slowly around me and took me to the center of that tornado.

Whatever Kate had in mind with the sloppy enunciation of the first verse (a reference to the drugs? a characterization to personalize the singer?), she makes up for it with the rest of the recording: it’s strong, passionate yet restrained, concicsely emotive, dark-bordered, and plenty deep. A big dark question mark followed by points of ellipsis.

If you want to be methodical, I suppose you could say that this was an update of “Heads We’re Dancing.” That may be true, but it doesn’t diminish what Kate’s delivering here.

As for the bonus track, “Sexual Healing,” it’s quaint with hilarious aspects that make me wonder how tongue-in-cheek silly Kate was being about it all. Certainly it’s nothing I could ever have expected: a Marvin Gaye song sung sweetly over a Phil Collins ballad (along the lines of “Throwing It All Away”), with uillean pipes skirling through the choruses.