After achieving crticial and commercial accolades for 1985’s Hounds of Love, Kate Bush released two albums not considered her most shining moments — The Sensual World in 1989 and The Red shoes in 1993.
And then she recorded nothing else for 12 years.
In 2005, Bush re-emerged with Aerial, an album quite out-of-step with anything happening in popular music at the moment.
But it makes me curious — what would have happened if more than decade hadn’t passed between releases?
Would Bush have entered a creative trough? Would she have lost some of the rabid loyalty she accrued since her late 70s debut?
There’s nothing calculating about taking time off after a decade of constant work, then trying to juggle studio time with raising a child.
And yet the time away has ended up doing good for both Bush and her fans. Twelve years is a painfully long time to wait, but it’s time in which the reputation of her work has become institutional.
Upon her return, Bush offers a double album with loosely conceptual music that feels like a product of the late ’70s.
While other bands are ripping off Talking Heads and Gang of Four, Bush still draws inspiration from the likes of mentor David Gilmour from Pink Floyd and the prog-rock of that era.
Bush has described Aerial as an extended version of Hounds of Love — one disc contains an album of songs, the other disc contains a complete suite.
The first disc, dubbed A Sea of Honey, finds Bush seeking the extraordinary in the ordinary.
“King of the Mountain” imagines Elvis with the Rosebud snowsled from Citizen Kane. The chorus of “π” consists of the mathematical constant sung to hundreds of digits.
“Mrs. Bartolozzi” eroticizes the dance of two pieces of clothings in a washing machine. While “How to Be Invisible” offers a spell to achieve that exact goal. It involves “hair of doormat”.
The second disc, A Sky of Honey, is where Bush expands musically.
“Sunset” begins introspectively but ends with energetic Latin rhythms, reminiscent of Sting’s “Guenica Solo”.
The concluding tracks of A Sky of Honey, spanning 16 minutes, are some of Bush’s longest. A repetitive bass line drives the slowly evolving “Nocturne”, while the title track shows off a passionate guitar solo.
The overall tone of Aerial is far more measured than her previous albums. None of the tracks feature the kind of abandon of “The Witch Awakes” or “Wuthering Heights”.
In fact, the mastering of the album is a bit on the quiet side — you will need to pump up the volume a bit if you listen to the album during rush hour traffic.
At the same time, it’s also some of Bush’s most subtle and affecting writing. Aerial requires some work in listening to it, but as the music seeps deeper into your consciousness, it’s easy to luxuriate in its beauty.
Even an ode to her son, “Bertie”, comes across as genuine instead of parentally sappy.
A Sea of Honey is my favorite of the two discs. Although A Sky of Honey is continuous, I never get the sense of real direction from its overall arc. Also, A Sea of Honey contains more of Bush’s more interesting musical ideas.
Aerial was certainly worth the decade-plus wait, and Kate Bush reaffirms the forcefulness of her creative vision. Let’s hope we don’t wait another decade for the next album.