[[SOUND OFF]] The sensual world of Kate Bush

By Lewis Pringle 

Stepping out into the wiley, windy moors of Kate Bush’s sensual world. Is she really queen of the music industry mountain after 35 years?

Kate Bush is without doubt one of the most idolised artists in British music history. She catapulted to fame in 1978 at the tender age of 19 with her debut single and number one hit, ‘Wuthering Heights’. Since then she has released ground breaking music and has not been afraid to experiment with different genres and technologies. In 2014 she made a triumphant return to the stage after an absence of 35 years embarking on a 22 date sell out live residency at the Hammersmith Apollo in London titled Before the Dawn.[1] The live shows demonstrated her versatility within music and theatre but equally cemented her legendary status as a consummate performer. But why is Kate Bush so relevant and important to the music industry?

The image of a young and nubile Kate Bush performing cartwheels while singing in a high pitched voice about Heathcliff and Cathy is, unquestionably, forever etched into public consciousness. But there is much more to Kate than this. She has the ability to absorb and transcend influences and inspirations into her work which can be seen as innovative and completely original.

Take her 1989 song ‘The Sensual World’ for example. It combines elements of high culture and pop music. The intent was to include text from James Joyce’s novel Ulysses where the character Molly Bloom delivers a soliloquy and accepts a man into her bed. However, the Joyce estate refused permission to allow the text to be featured in the song and Kate begrudgingly wrote her own version (arguably for the better) in a similar style.[2]

There are frequent lyrics of ‘mmm yes’ establishing the song’s sensuous content, and ‘stepping out, off the page, into the sensual world’ inviting listeners to use their imagination rather than focussing on the text itself. The 1980s style of production of heavy drums, although dated today, proves that aspects (or influences) of high culture can be easily implemented into popular music.

Kate is not unknown to be innovative and use influences that surround her. Another example is a 42 minute conceptual song cycle from her 2005 album Aerial titled ‘A Sky of Honey’ which incorporates bird song and thunderstorms with frequent references to sunlight, sea and sky in every lyric. The cycle creates something of a tranquil experience. For example the track ‘Aerial Tal’ is pure birdsong complete with a light piano track in the background. This element of nature may seem odd but is nonetheless completely original and arguably is something only Kate Bush could compose and produce.

In regards to her impact within the British music industry it has to be noted that her entire career, spanning over 35 years, has been solely on her own terms and in some ways it can be said that Kate Bush offers a definition of feminism; independence and standing up to a male-dominated world, but most importantly acting as a voice for any artist(s) who refuse to back down from dominant forces. At the beginning of her career she pushed for the release of ‘Wuthering Heights’ as her first single when predominantly male bosses at EMI clamoured for the release of ‘James and the Cold Gun’. Kate won that hard-fought battle, pushing for her vision at a time when the industry was a predominantly male, and the rest is history.[3]

But is Kate Bush really a feminist? In Kate’s own words from a 1989 Greater London radio interview – ‘Yuck! God I hate that word… I think all women are offended by that term… what really has power is… women just getting on with it and doing it… really well’.[4] But yet Kate’s work, undeniably, has feminist undertones. For instance her 1980 hit single ‘Army Dreamers’ was written from the perspective of an Irish mother bringing her dead soldier home and lamenting over the futility of war.

Lyrics such as ‘mammy’s hero’ demonstrates a mother’s pride of her son being a soldier, but yet laments over the waste of a young life in which there’s a list of occupations and life roles that were never fulfilled, ‘but he never had a proper education… what a waste’ as young men were being sent to fight a pointless war. It is true however that Kate didn’t see herself as an overt feminist yet it is evident that within her lyrics she has maternal instincts and ultimately displays feminist traits by including political messages within her lyrics.

Fast-forward to 2014 and Kate Bush is as relevant to the music industry as she ever was. There has been chart resurgence due to her recent live comeback with eight of her albums simultaneously charting in the UK official albums chart top 40 in August 2014, becoming the first female in history to achieve the most entries on the chart.[5]

This begs the question why is Kate Bush still relevant?

In my opinion she is illusionary. We know very little about her private life as she shuns celebrity culture but quietly works on incredible pieces of music at her own pace. We expect a Kate Bush album to be exciting and adventurous and in an era of auto tune and fame obsessed artists it is refreshing to see an artist still unafraid to push boundaries and experiment with different musical styles.

Her most recent album from 2011 titled 50 Words for Snow is both experimental and conceptual with songs about snow and winter. A particular favourite of mine is her duet with Stephen Fry titled ’50 Words for Snow’ based on the myth that Eskimos supposedly have 50 words for snow.[6] Fry’s intelligent and authoritative voice is perfect for reciting the somewhat fantastical words.

As a Kate Bush obsessive I relish the chance to use my imagination whenever I listen to her music. This is exactly why Kate Bush is relevant, we can use our imagination and we also have the opportunity to escape into her world, her ‘sensual world’ of music, theatre and literature. She is without doubt queen of the music industry mountain. 

Notes

  1. http://www.katebush.com/news/dawn
  2. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-12970141
  3. http://h2g2.com/edited_entry/A3502568
  4. http://gaffa.org/cloud/subjects/feminism.html
  5. http://www.officialcharts.com/chart-news/kate-bush-sets-new-official-chart-record-3084/
  6. http://thequietus.com/articles/07364-kate-bush-interview-2

 

YouTube links

Wuthering Heights – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-1pMMIe4hb4

The Sensual World – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h1DDndY0FLI

A Sky of Honey – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTP6tEZ8yzM

Aerial Tal – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C4HbsYXHm_I

James and the Cold Gun – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5c_2QlvdTFc

Army Dreamers – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QOZDKlpybZE

50 Words for Snow – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8Aytn3Fcu0

[[SOUND OFF]] is a series of student-written features on artists/albums/music worth checking out

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