The Sensual World

Kate Bush

1989: Columbia CK 44164

  1. The Sensual World
  2. Love and Anger
  3. The Fog
  4. Reaching Out
  5. Heads We’re Dancing
  6. Deeper Understanding
  7. Between a Man and a Woman
  8. Never Be Mine
  9. Rocket’s Tail
  10. This Woman’s Work
  11. Walk Straight Down the Middle

In the decades-old debate of whether The Dreaming or The Hounds of Love is the ultimately perfect Kate Bush album, in which I’ve hovered for the last ten years between the two camps, feeling quite divided and uncertain myself, I find at times that I’m a fifth columnist who actually might put The Sensual World in the disputed top slot. It’s a really, really tough call, as anyone who loves these three albums in particular knows well…. I suppose I could say anyway that it’s Kate’s most beautiful record.

As a total conceptual work The Hounds of Love probably wins, as a two-part album anyway, and as a mind-blower The Dreaming certainly takes the cake; The Sensual World just happens to present a personally deeper and possibly darker cosmos with ever-so-slightly less extreme boundaries. The usual hyperbole zone is still represented, though: dancing with Hitler (or a look-alike), blasting off from Waterloo Bridge with a rocket (or was it just a burning stick?) strapped to her back, and sustaining a dependency on software are a few of the unlikelier scenarios Kate’s in here.

Extremes aside, even included, this is a lush and lovely piece of work, a dark-colored but shiningly beautiful present to the world from an obsessively intense artist who clearly wants to present nothing if it’s not exactly what she has in mind. And that determination is hungrily appreciated by countless frenzied Kate Bush fans and by myself as well (I’m a fan, oh yes indeedy, but I do try to maintain some decorum…it’s not easy when you suddenly find yourself raving to some bewildered and suddenly exit-eyeingly edgy non-fan about the palimpsest-like levels of “Suspended In Gaffa,” realizing you’ve just played “Watching You Without Me” for the 40th time on a Track Repeat loop, or making a 90-minute cassette out of a loop of the vocal chording on “Night-Scented Stock”).

When The Sensual World came out, I first saw it in record shops in London, where I was on my first trip to Europe; I knew of Kate’s work only fragmentarily…I think I had a copy of The Hounds of Love because of “Running Up That Hill” at that point, but certainly I’d never listened to The Dreaming. I think I didn’t get a copy of the album until after I’d returned to the U.S. and recovered from rock-bottom financial straits, but when I did get it I was fascinated with a fascination that only deepened after I was properly introduced to her two preceding albums.

Kate’s collaboration with the Trio Bulgarka is a beautiful expansion of her own musical creativity. I have become so accustomed to “Rocket’s Tail” that I don’t usually hear it with wonder anymore, but sometimes that’s still there…and the astonishment returns upon realizing how deftly Kate has woven a lovely Irish sort of melody among the chords and voices of the three Bulgarian women in its first half. In the same cultural family, the title track’s chorus was (and still is) a thrill to hear, for me, because just a year or two beforehand I had been introduced to that same Bulgarian folk song by choreographer Jennifer Carroll in Seattle (she had set her dance “Vulgarina” to it); it has such a gorgeous flickering shift from major to minor and back throughout that it evokes intriguing mixed emotions in me.