IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush photoed by her brother John Carder Bush in 2011
Why 2019 Is the Perfect Year for the Unique Brilliance of Kate Bush
SNOWFLAKE is the opening track from...
ALL ALBUM COVERS: Getty Images
Kate Bush’s last album, 50 Words for Snow. I am not sure whether ‘last’ is the right word: ‘current’ or ‘latest’ might seem more appropriate and less final! Whatever terminology you want to dust into the conversation, it seems the song’s title is the most apt description of Kate Bush. They say every snowflake is unique – I am not sure whether that is a myth – but I was excited when 50 Words for Snow arrived back in 2011! Having released Director’s Cut – a series of reworkings of songs that appeared on The Sensual World (1989) and The Red Shoes (1993) – it was a shock to get a second Kate Bush album in a year! Gaps between releases have become a more regular part of Kate Bush’s work since 1982’s The Dreaming. She took three years to follow that album (Hounds of Love appeared in 1985) and there was another four years until The Sensual World. Then it was four years until The Red Shoes and there was that larger gap...twelve more years until Aerial arrived from the sky. There was pressure in Bush’s life right from the debut. After The Kick Inside’s success and unexpected beauty in 1978; EMI were keen for a quick follow-up. Given time constraints and a rushed feel; Lionheart was released in 1978 and did not fare that well. That need for greater care, personal control and time enforced increased gaps between albums.
It was not just about being able to make albums at her own pace. If there is a new album every year or two then the sound will be very similar and it would not allow great depth, exploration and originality. It was not a shock to see a four or five year gap between records given the pressure that was on Kate Bush’s shoulders and the fact she needed to make music in her own way. Many were not expecting her to be off the radar so long after 1993’s The Red Shoes but new family commitments, personal priorities and a new creative phase came to the fore. Aerial’s 2005 arrival was a shock but you could see the twelve-year wait was worth it. The textures and sheer effort in the music; the influence of her new son, Bertie, and a feeling of ease and personal happiness made the (double) album a huge success. If it were released in the 1990s or sooner than she’d hoped then that would have affected the purity and quality. Bush slaved hard and needed the material to ferment. She never felt the album would be released and had her fears – it must have been joyous seeing Aerial on the shelves! It was a relief to only wait another six years before we got some new material. Director’s Cut and 50 Words for Snow marked the most productive recording year of her life since 1978.
I can understand why she wanted to re-record some of the tracks from The Sensual World and The Red Shoes and that creative and interpretative burst led to original thought and a fresh concept. As with every Kate Bush album; nobody could have predicted what it would be about and how it would make you feel. Ever since Hounds of Love, people have always wanted the next version of that. No matter what you produce after your masterpiece, everyone wants a similar version of what they love most – rather than a natural evolution and something out of that. Kate Bush created something very different to her 1985 benchmark with 50 Words for Snow. With featured vocalists such as Sir Elton John and the legendary Steve Gadd on percussive duties; it was another big leap and revelation from an artist in her fifties. We were never going to see the same songwriter we did in the 1970s and 1980s but I doubt many were expecting 50 Words for Snow. It is hard to put your finger on but maybe it is the change of sound – more Jazz influences than we have heard from her – or the length of track (only seven tracks overall but most of them are over eight minutes). There are a select few artists who subvert expectations and produce something totally fresh every single time – Kate Bush must be at the very top of that list.
When she was interviewing and promoting the album – she gave a smattering of interviews for Aerial but really went all-out for 50 Words for Snow – she talked about its themes and tones; explaining how it has been a creative period for her and the shock of putting two albums out in a year! Talk, in interviews, invariably turned to touring and whether Bush would embark on her second-ever tour (her first, The Tour of Life, started in 1979 and promoted the songs from The Kick Inside and Lionheart). Bush explained how she lived touring and its energy – noting how it was like a circus (in a good way) – but turned into a record artist and had been busy in the ensuing years. We did not have to wait too long until those tour-related prayers were heeded. Some thirty-five years after she began her last tour, Before the Dawn took to the Hammersmith Apollo stage. The 2014 tour was a huge hit and was a massive sell-out. Critics raved and many were noting it favourably to her first tour – in terms of the theatrics, scope and sheer ambition of the sets/concepts. The Guardian’s Alexis Petridis, in his review of 26th August, 2014, was filled with praise:
“The staging might look excessive on paper, but onstage it works to astonishing effect, bolstering rather than overwhelming the emotional impact of the songs. The Ninth Wave is disturbing, funny and so immersive that the crowd temporarily forget to applaud everything Bush does. As each scene bleeds into another, they seem genuinely rapt: at the show's interval, people look a little stunned. A Sky of Honey is less obviously dramatic – nothing much happens over the course of its nine tracks – but the live performance underlines how beautiful the actual music is...
IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush in a promotional image that captures her at the Hammersmith Apollo for her Before the Dawn show/PHOTO CREDIT: Kate Bush/Getty Images
Already widely acclaimed as the most influential and respected British female artist of the past 40 years, shrouded in the kind of endlessly intriguing mystique that is almost impossible to conjure in an internet age, Bush theoretically had a lot to lose by returning to the stage. Clearly, given how tightly she has controlled her own career since the early 80s, she would only have bothered because she felt she had something spectacular to offer. She was right: Before The Dawn is another remarkable achievement”.
After a long wait for new material after The Red Shoes, we had been treated to two original albums, a series of reworkings AND a new tour all within the space of nine years. That might sound like a long period of time but considering the quality put forward and the fact that at her commercial peak she was leaving three or four years between new albums means this new phase of her recording life was ripe, receptive and bountiful. Many were expecting a relatively quick response to 50 Words for Snow but there was no response. Although there has not been a studio album since 2011, the legendary songwriter has not been sitting idle! Her book of lyrics, How to Be Invisible, was released at the end of last year and Bush, in a great move, re-released and remastered her entire back catalogue.
IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush captured in 1985/PHOTO CREDIT: Guido Harari
One of my biggest frustrations was never being able to pick up a vinyl Kate Bush at any record shop! One might see albums like Aerial here and there but you try and get a copy of Hounds of Love or The Kick Inside! Casual and committed fans want all of her work in its vinyl glory and that, before last year, involved rather expensive trips to Amazon or eBay! The fact we can now get every one of her studio albums on vinyl for a fairly good rate. She released a series of remastered boxsets, each representing a different period of her life. There are four different boxsets and I guess each vinyl costs about twenty quid. It varies between boxsets but you get a good deal for your cash. Not only can you own all her albums – you can buy each record separately if you want; about fifteen or sixteen quid for single-album studio efforts – but there is a final instalment that collates some covers, rarities and unusual gems. If you want, you can buy your favourite Kate Bush album remastered and available in rare vinyl form. If you want to dive in then I would urge people to invest in the boxset editions. Buying each set would prove a triple-figure expense but – and I would if I had the money – one that is worth a rather painful monthly bank statement!
IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush in a promotional shot for Director’s Cut/PHOTO CREDIT: John Carder Bush/Kate Bush
Like she did in 2011 – and in 1978 – Kate Bush brought out two projects in the same year! Although we were not treated to new material in 2018, it was more a year of retrospect, housekeeping and setting the record shape. We had not seen a book of lyrics from Bush until that point and, when you consider her lyrics are unique and very much her; having a book with a selection together was a long-overdue necessity. Getting all her albums re-released and having them available on vinyl was a vital move that meant people could increase their collection and new listeners could buy them – accompany them with the book of lyrics to boot! Cynics might have seen 2018 as a money-making bonanza for Bush and one where she could trade on her older material – the fact she had her own pop-up shop in London (raising money for the homeless charity, Crisis) meant, for the first time, there was this bespoke Bush shop where you could buy her new remasters and lyrics book and ensure profits from the sale went to a charity. It was a crazy and intense period for Bush (2018) and let’s consider the fact she only finished her tour in 2014. Getting all of that out in four years is an impressive feat! The most-recent audio interview we have from her is from 2016 – she spoke with BBC Radio 6’s Matt Everitt in 2016 to promote the release of Before the Dawn on C.D. and vinyl.
We are only just in 2019 now so one can forgive Bush the chance to work off some post-Christmas stress and spend some time getting her home in order! I know she will feel good having her back catalogue out and lyrics available in printed form. She silenced rumours about a tour and has been able to tick a lot off of the ‘rumours and to-do list’! Maybe we will get more live Kate Bush before retirement (if she ever does!) but I think the Hammersmith shows, in a way, were a swansong and a good way of bookmarking things. The only real question remains whether another studio album will come. She has released quite a fair deal since 2011’s 50 Words for Snow but I have heard interviews she did around that time where she says there are new ideas and concepts. It has nearly been eight years since that album and many will be hungry for another Kate Bush original. She took six years to follow up Aerial and one feels she will not want to let the clock tick into double-digits before another studio album. I think this year is a perfect one regarding new Kate Bush material. A lot has happened in the world since we saw a studio album from Kate Bush. There has been increased political turmoil and divisions in the U.K.
PHOTO CREDIT: John Carder Bush
We have seen reports come out suggesting vinyl has stalled in sales (sales stalled for the first time last year after enjoying record sales before) and C.D.s are on the way out. We see reports about streaming booms but a bit of turmoil regarding music business. I feel, despite the streaming boom, there is uncertainty regarding parity and whether these big streaming numbers equate to fair revenue. Record shops are threatened and more and more live venues have closed down. We will never live to see a day when all venues and shops will close but I feel electronic claws are exerting more power and voice by the year. The landscape has shifted a lot since 2011 and I feel there is this great need for some sort of order, recovery and discussion. I feel 2018’s vinyl freeze will end in 2019 and sales will pick back up. There has been some uplift and joy in music the past few years but I think there is still a trend towards the dour, depressed and overly-personal. Female artists are shouting loud but I still think there is an imbalance and sexism – despite the fact most of the best albums from last year were recorded by female artists. This might sound like I am building up to a superhero fanfare but we need Super Kate to swing back in and start to kick butt!
I feel we are less concerned about physical forms and albums as a whole; more drawn to something insular and less magical. Her music, to me, seems to be the antidote. Even when she is discussing a wintery scene or a personal theme; magic, beauty and incredible joy seems to be sprinkled on every page! Her arresting voice and incredible musicianship puts you in a better frame and the fact her remastered albums garnered such interest shows how much of an ‘albums artist’ she is! You feel guilty and short-changed hand-picking songs from a Kate Bush album: her records need to be experienced in their full state and, as such, I think a new album from her could help fight the case for vinyl and C.D.s. Not only can she spur a fresh interest in the album as an artform but, for those who prefer to select a few tracks here and there, having a fresh Kate Bush album on Spotify means one can select a few fresh tracks and combine them with material from all her other albums – create their own Kate Bush mix and a special playlist. Although she (and I) would prefer people bought the album and listened to it without skipping; any time someone bonds with her music is a special and unique occasion. Kate Bush turned sixty last year and I think there is a real clambering for the iconic artist to enter her sixth decade of recording with something that reflects the past few years.
PHOTO CREDIT: John Carder Bush
She has a grown-up son now and there have been no real seismic shifts in terms of the music landscape – no phenomenon like Britpop or Grunge that would mean a new Kate Bush album would stick out and be marginalised. Another sixty-year-old Pop icon, Madonna, will definitely release an album this year and it would be good to see Bush join her and bring out something new. One knows Bush works at her own rate and you can never predict what will come and when it will arrive. I am excited to see whether we will get a concept-type record or a new sonic shift (Kate Bush tackling Electro, perhaps?!). Knowing her work inside out; the compositions are likely to be fairly similar in tone to her previous couple of albums and not a return to her early style. I feel the fact she has remastered her albums and released a lyrics book means there is this phase complete and she is ready to enter the next one. I am not suggesting she will release an album this year but I think there is something in the water. It has been eight years since her last original and I can guarantee she has been working on songs since she completed work on 50 Words for Snow. Look at the ten albums (including Director’s Cut) she has released so far and one can see a trend emerge. The Kick Inside was released in February (1978) whereas Director’s Cut came out in May (2011). Aside from that, every single other album came out between September and November.
If we had to wait until September this year then that would be okay but I’d like to think Bush has a more The Kick Inside-like release plan. Of course, as soon as there is a new album out people will ask if there is another to come after that! I do get the sense Bush has been keen to tour, remaster her work and get the lyrics book out before thinking about something new. Now that this has been achieved, I wonder what we might get. There are more than just me yearning for a new Bush album and something that indicates where her creative mind is. It is clear the love of her work is fierce and people, of all ages, want to experience her unique genius. There have been some incredible albums unleashed to the world since 2011 but none that match Kate Bush in full flight. The fact we received treats last year means we should let that settle and be thankful but you know many are eager to experience something new. 50 Words for Snow is a fantastic album I keep listening to and am discovering nuance and revelation time and time again. Among the chill, snowmen and frozen tundra is this unique snowflake: the one and only Kate Bush. I am not sure how she will follow that 2011 work of brilliance but let’s hope this year sees her eleventh studio album arrive (tenth if you see Director’s Cut as re-workings rather than new songs). Although, as I said, where Kate Bush is concerned...
PHOTO CREDIT: John Carder Bush
YOU can never predict what she’ll do next.