Forever and Ever, Never for Ever
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Kate Bush’s Groundbreaking Album at Thirty-Eight
IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush in 1980/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
we are provided with another chance to celebrate Kate Bush! Having just marked her sixtieth birthday (on 30th July, to be exact); we have more opportunities to commemorate her work later in the year – a few of her albums will celebrate anniversaries and we can put her back under the spotlight. I hope there is more Kate Bush material coming next year – I get the sense something is brewing and she is working up to another album! 2011’s 50 Words for Snow was a critical hit and new direction for her. Fewer songs than most of her albums but longer, more explorative soundscapes that perfectly departed from what we view a ‘conventional’ (if you can ever apply that word to her?!) Kate Bush album and stepped more into Jazz territory. It is a fantastic record that points to a very interesting and curious future. I wonder whether subsequent Kate Bush albums will go down the same lines or return to her earlier work – a bit of a nod to her sapling days and the shorter Pop songs. In any case; that is all to come and what we might expect: we now look to the past and a Kate Bush album that changed the course of her career and broke new ground. I have talked extensively about her debut, The Kick Inside, and my love for it. If Kate Bush super-fans place it lower in their top-five – never getting above Hounds of Love, The Sensual World and The Dreaming – I wonder whether Never for Ever makes the cut?!
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1978’s The Kick Inside was a huge work that caught the imagination of most critics and, in any case, introduced a unique talent who was years ahead of everyone else. There was that inevitable pressure to follow up a debut smash with something that retained the urgency and beauty of that work. Lionheart was released in the same year and, whilst not as grand and original as her debut album, it gets an unfair kicking from critics! She was never going to follow up on The Kick Inside with anything as good given the label pressures and lacking time. If Lionheart is a more hurried and studio-based album – The Kick Inside assembled tracks Bush had written at home; I suspect more songs came together in the studio for Lionheart – then it is by no means a failure! Listen to cuts like Wow, Symphony in Blue and In The Warm Room; the weird twists of Hammer Horror and the swoon of Oh England My Lionheart (one of Kate Bush’s favourite songs of that album). It is a solid ten-track collection but because it does not have a Wuthering Heights on it; many saw it as a lukewarm effort and a bit so-so. I acknowledge there aren’t the same heights and peaks as The Kick Inside but it is an impressive and stunning record.
In any case; 1978 was a frantic year and, around this time, Kate Bush was touring both albums and bringing her music to crowds around the country (something she would not do again for decades!). Whether you see it as a new start or a chance to start afresh; Never for Ever was released in 1980 and, after touring and the need to follow her sophomore record with something exceptional, there were eyes and ears trained the way of the album. The next evolution and growth would happen when she released The Dreaming and Hounds of Love – that 1982-1985 period where she was coming into her own and capturing that debut album magic (to many, this was her finest career period and a moment when she stepped into a league of her own!). Never for Ever is important because it found Bush stepping into the producer’s chair. She had ‘assisted’ production on Lionheart but here, alongside Jon Kelly, they worked through the songs together and you can hear more of the songwriter’s fingerprints on the music. Perhaps it is the way I hear the songs but I get the sense (Never for Ever) was Kate Bush stepping up and starting that fight against the record label. She wanted to assert more control and produce an album that sounded right to her – not just a commercial record that would see her get famous and put her songs in the charts.
Kate Bush has always said how she wants people to hear albums rather than handpick singles (and skip through things). You can hear a mood and a narrative run through Never for Ever. It is a fantastic L.P. that has those instant and recognisable songs – I shall come to them – and those rare gems that reveal their beauty through repeated listens. In 1980, Never for Ever scored Kate Bush’s first number-one album and, astonishingly, it was the first album to enter the charts at number-one by a female artist. It is weird to think that, even in 1978, there had not been a female-created record that went straight in at number-one. Given the rather ho-hum reception for Lionheart; the exposure gained from touring and a rising profile meant there was a huge appetite for new material. I have watched T.V. interviews from 1980 and there is that sense of relief she is back after two years – such a long time to be away from the scene (almost laughable considering how long it takes mainstream stars today to produce records)! The hard work and touring paid off: Never for Ever, whilst not a Hounds of Love-level genius-work, gathered a lot of praise and singles like Breathing, Army Dreamers and Babooshka scored huge (and are considered some of her finest-ever songs). At twenty-one, Kate Bush became the experimental artist that defined the rest of her career...
With a combination of up-to-the-minute technologies and little-heard sounds and touches, it was a blend of the natural and advanced. Listen to the Fairlight CMI sound/sample on Babooshka (the noise of glass shattering) and you could hear Bush pushing herself and utilising what was big at the time. Although Kate Bush loves analogue and a more traditional way of working; she is someone who uses technology to add new dimensions to her music and provide a unique edge. More complex and bold than The Kick Inside; Never for Ever is an electric and exciting album that contains plenty of tenderness and early-career touches. Babooshka is Kate Bush reaching new heights and creating the sort of raw and explosive song that would be more commonly heard on The Dreaming. It is an addictive and awe-inspiring track that is hard to believe came from an artist only three albums in! That is the majesty of Kate Bush: she was able to bring these songs out and it seems natural and seamless. After that brilliant opener; we have Delius and Blow Away: flighty and bird-like; heavenly and supremely tender in all their movements and whispered tones. Even in the more ‘intimate’ and quieter moments, you have so much instrumentation, sounds and detail. Listen to the bass vocals of Paddy Bush (her brother) on Delius or the orchestration on Blow Away...
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If we associate Bush’s first two albums with a reliance on piano and a few other instruments – she was adding new elements by Lionheart... – there was an increase in ambition on Never for Ever. As I say; this innovation and stretch would get even bigger by The Dreaming – hitting its peak in Hounds of Love – but this was the album that signalled a transition. This article expanded on Kate Bush’s use of technology and her interest in new developments:
“The album is also important in terms of Bush's artistic development in the way it demonstrated her interest in new tech; this is taken from an article in the NME:
“As soon as I met the Fairlight,” Bush admitted in 1985 about the digital sampling synthesiser, “I realised that it was something I really couldn’t do without because it was just so integral to what I wanted to do with my music.” The possibilities are obvious on ‘Never For Ever’, the most lush of her albums to that point, where dreamy Minnie Riperton soul (‘Blow Away’) meets berserk vamping rock (‘Babooshka’). Its finest moment is the haunting ‘Breathing’ with Bush facing up to the burgeoning nuclear crisis as weapons move into Greenham Common. “What are we going to do/We are all going to die” is as direct as she ever gets, and has all the more grim power for that. ”
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Never for Ever’s first-half has some great songs – bookended by Babooshka and Egypt – but the remainder of the album, if anything, is stronger. I associate records like The Kick Inside, Hounds of Love and even The Dreaming with stronger opening halves – that was not the case here! Never for Ever was not going to give all of its pearls away by the first five or six songs, oh no! Listen to the lesser-celebrated songs like The Wedding List and Night Scented Stock and they seem to say so much with very little explosion and weather. You get all that story detail and wonderful vocal work but you follow the lyrics and plot. You are drawn into the songs and taken into a beautiful and strange world. Violin, like Babooshka, is Kate Bush stripping away the clothing and going wild! The growling, elevated and harder-edged vocals many were unfamiliar with came into view and signalled another side to her remarkable voice – listen to songs on The Dreaming like Get Out of My House and that is intensified to scary levels! Perhaps she saves the two best (depending on where you put Babooshka in the pack) for the end. Army Dreamers, the third and final single from the album, is about a mother discovering her young son died during army manoeuvres – wrestling with her consciousness and what she could have done.
Not only is it hugely original and unexpected territory for a Pop song but it has a potent and sobering political message regarding the armed forces and how those protecting and preserving life can have theirs snatched away without warning. Its music video sees Bush wide-eyed and alarmed at the gunfire and explosions around her; a compelling piece that perfectly highlights the song’s messages and, actually, is one of the few pieces of her work she (Bush) was completely happy with! Breathing, on the other hand, is not about warfare and the army but carries an equally powerful message. The song is about a foetus that is aware of war outside the womb and the possibility of nuclear fallout. Lyrics also talk of the foetus absorbing the tobacco smoke of her mother (the line about breathing my mother in...) and a lot of the inspiration came from a documentary Kate Bush had watched regarding the possibilities of nuclear war and its fallout. Breathing is the first single from the album – rare to see a closing track as a lead-off single – and, whilst it only just dented the top-twenty (entering at number-sixteen), it is considered one of Bush’s best songs. She herself claimed Never for Ever was one of her favourite works and I get the sense a lot of questions and frustrations were resolved whilst making it.
Before I wrap things up; here is a review from Sputnik Music, published in 2012, that seems to define the critical voice and the sort of assessment that came through in 1980:
“…Musically, Never For Ever naturally expands thanks to a more layered sound. The album features a vibrant mix of wet fairlight synths, pianos, fretless bass and layers of strings. The performances of the album fit smoother than on previous records as Bush goes for a more varied final product.
Kate's third solo album was no masterpiece but a fascinating and necessary step in her discography. Bush's writing had finally evolved enough to the point where she could write without relying too much on image or style. Whether it's experimenting with her remarkable vocal range, creative arrangements, or vivid lyrics, Never For Ever shows Kate Bush improving in all the right ways”.
The Dreaming would finally see critical unity and praise came back her way fully; by 1985’s Hounds of Love, Kate Bush was a national musical treasure and had created one of the best albums ever. Never for Ever was an important step because she was keen to make an album that she had more of say in. Maybe she was a bit disappointed with many aspects of Lionheart but she was not going to repeat that experience.
IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush signing copies of Never for Ever at London's Virgin Megastore in 1980/PHOTO CREDIT: Chas Sime/Getty Images
Her third album is more considered and its songs more varied; there are political images and messages alongside songs that would be familiar with those who loved her first two works – Delius and Blow Away for instance. There were some critical jabs at the album and some took a shot at Kate Bush herself but the public reaction to the album was stunning. The week following the album’s release, Bush undertook a record signing tour of the U.K. and, when at London’s Oxford Street, found queues that went right down the street! She proceeded to tour Europe and found a lot of love for the album. Never for Ever spent three weeks at the top of the album charts and remained in the top-seventy-five for a good deal longer than that. There was a lot more love aimed at Bush – compared to her previous album – and the feeling she was maturing and growing in confidence. The fact she co-produced the record meant she could make decisions in the studio and record the songs as she imagined them. New technology and bold lyrics themes were coming in at this point – they would define her career from here and, in many ways, Never for Ever was the true beginning of her 'golden period'. I prefer The Kick Inside in terms of quality and overall mood but I feel Never for Ever should be celebrated because of the milestones achieved (Bush as the first woman to have an album go in at number-one; not just in Britain but the world!). It turns thirty-eight on Friday and, whilst Bush would create albums more celebrated and popular, I feel that Never for Ever is hugely important because it was the start of a creative and personal growth that, only five years later, would see her…
IN THIS IMAGE: A fan interpretation of the Hounds of Love album cover image (by John Carder Bush)/IMAGE CREDIT: rosabelieve
RELEASE her defining masterpiece.