FEATURE: The Voice Inside of the Voice: Is Kate Bush Underrated?




The Voice Inside of the Voice


IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush captured in 1980/PHOTO CREDIT:  Patrick Lichfield

Is Kate Bush Underrated?


IN another two weeks...



it will be forty-one years since The Kick Inside was unveiled to the world. On 17th February, 1978, Kate Bush’s debut album created this star, this rare voice; this songwriter the world had never seen before. It arrived at an interesting time and provided an alternative to the burgeoning Punk scene. Kate Bush was a fan of Punk but her music sounded nothing like the music the likes of The Jam were coming out with! The Kick Inside is my favourite album of all time and, to me, it has yet to be topped by Kate Bush. At such a young age (she was a teenager still when the album came out) she was producing material more mature, accomplished and special than the vast majority of songwriters out there. Just listen to the voice itself and had the music world experienced anything like THAT?! Listening in 2019 and I still cannot think of anything with the same beauty, haunt and grace. The intimacy and balletic quality means all of the tracks take on their own life; Kate Bush embodies different personas on different songs and it is a staggering work. I will try to answer the question I asked at the top of this review but, ahead of The Kick Inside turning forty-one, Pitchfork investigated and shed new light on many of Bush’s greatest records. Laura Snapes looked at The Kick Inside and remarked on some of its qualities and depths.

But provocation for its own sake wasn’t Bush’s project. EMI not pushing her to make an album at 15 was a blessing: The Kick Insidearrived the year after punk broke, which Bush knew served her well. “People were waiting for something new to come out—something with feeling,” she said in 1978. For anyone who scoffed at her punk affiliation—given her teenage mentorship at the hands of Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour and her taste for the baroque—she indisputably subverted wanky prog with her explicit desire and sexuality: Here was how she might intrude. The limited presence of women in prog tended to orgasmic moaning that amplified the supposed sexual potency of the group’s playing. Bush demanded pleasure, grew impatient when she had to wait for it, and ignored the issue of male climax—rock’s founding pleasure principle—to focus on how sex might transform her. “I won’t pull away,” she sings almost as a threat on “Feel It,” alone with the piano. “My passion always wins”.


IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush in her home in September 1978/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

There were many different sides to Bush’s writing but it was the way she addressed gender and sexuality on The Kick Inside that was so different to what a lot of other singer-songwriters were discussing:

What made Bush’s writing truly radical was the angles she could take on female desire without ever resorting to submissiveness. “Wuthering Heights” is menacing melodrama and ectoplasmic empowerment; “The Saxophone Song”—one of two recordings made when she was 15—finds her fantasizing about sitting in a Berlin bar, enjoying a saxophonist’s playing and the effect it has on her”.

There was plenty of confidence in the young songwriter and the tenacity to get the best from her material, again, was rare for such a young artist. Whilst The Kick Inside was not entirely the album Kate Bush wanted to make, it was remarkable in terms of its uniqueness and unmistakable strength:

“The Kick Inside was Bush’s first, the sound of a young woman getting what she wants. Despite her links to the 1970s’ ancien régime, she recognized the potential to pounce on synapses shocked into action by punk, and eschewed its nihilism to begin building something longer lasting. It is ornate music made in austere times, but unlike the pop sybarites to follow in the next decade, flaunting their wealth while Britain crumbled, Bush spun hers not from material trappings but the infinitely renewable resources of intellect and instinct: Her joyous debut measures the fullness of a woman’s life by what’s in her head”.

I mention The Kick Inside because it is coming up for its anniversary but it was evident, even at the start, here was an artist who would have no equals. I think Kate Bush is always talked about in passionate tones but I do wonder whether she gets the respect she deserves. Many radio stations play her music but it is quite limited in terms of its scope. Wuthering Heights is an obvious standout and legendary song but it is favoured over most of her back catalogue. Songs such as Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God) and Hounds of Love get a lot of play as do This Woman’s Work and Babooshka. There is no truly bad album from Bush – although 1993’s The Red Shoes got some mixed reviews – and it is the richness of her entire catalogue (not just the hits) that makes her special. From The Kick Inside and Lionheart in 1978 to 2011’s 50 Words for Snow, there is so much treasure and variation Bush’s arsenal. I look at an album like Hounds of Love (1985) and, whilst it is seen as her best, how many of the songs do we hear on modern radio?! The Kick Inside, Never for Ever (1980) and The Dreaming (1982) are packed with incredible moments but few are exposed on radio and T.V. From the amazing strings of Houdini (The Dreaming) through to the evocative beauty of How to Be Invisible (Aerial, 2005), there are so many wonderful songs that are not given proper attention.



For a songwriter regarded so highly, we only really get a portion of her genius and the picture is more complex and varied than many assume. I am not suggesting everyone listen to all of her albums the entire way through but there are a load of songs most people do not get to hear. We think about Bush as a singer and great artist but how often do we think about how she pushed music forward? Bush became the first U.K. female artist to have a self-penned number-one with Wuthering Heights and, when Never for Ever became a number-one album, it was the first time a British female artist had achieved that feat. Bush’s lyrics are, as they always have been, filled with incredible language, scenes and expressions. We use the word ‘unique’ when it comes to Kate Bush and that can certainly extend to her lyrics. If you have not got a copy of her book, How to Be Invisible, then it gives you a spread of her lyrics, collected together for the first time. The appeal and endurance of Kate Bush extends beyond her music. Look at her videos and you can tell this is an artist who has as much fascination regarding film as she does music. Always pushing boundaries and doing something different, videos for songs such as Cloudbusting and Army Dreamers are iconic. Listen to Kate Bush being interviewed and, from the start of her career until now, she is illuminating, engaging and warm.

So many big artists tend to be a bit cagey and detached in interviews and you can tell it is hard to get a lot from them. Kate Bush has always kept her private life from the press and it has always been about the music. As such, questions are trained on the songs themselves and it means Bush is much more willing to converse, open up and reveal. She is a complete artist and personality and I wonder whether there is anyone who has so many sides. Maybe there are other icons that are as fascinating and bright but few have all the qualities and colours of Kate Bush! I think Kate Bush’s influence and talent is more important now than ever and, at a time when many songwriters struggle to stand out and say something new, many could learn a lot from her. There is speculation as to what comes next from her but, last year, Bush released a book of lyrics and re-released her back catalogue on vinyl. It is likely there will be new material soon but, as always with Kate Bush, she will take her time and not be predicted! Many talk about Kate Bush as being this icon and legend but how much of that takes into account her full body of work and her true self?!


 PHOTO CREDIT: Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Alamy

I often wonder why Kate Bush has not been made a Dame! Many other women have over her – who, I feel, have contributed less to the world – and I think it is only a matter of time before that honour comes her way. The more one explores Kate Bush’s music, the more you learn and are moved. Maybe the fact Kate Bush is more popular here than in the U.S. – Bush did not perform much in the U.S. and only broke through there fairly late – means she does not have the focus other big artists do but look at the music closely and I wonder whether many go beyond the surface. To hear her speak about her process and music is a wonderful thing and, when you put everything together, it is an enormous impact. Maybe I am biased in my praise but I feel there are a few artists whose relevance can inspire the new generation. Female songwriters, today, have to struggle to get equal rights and I wonder whether, in some ways, music has taken steps back. These women’s’ worth cannot be measured entirely in terms of Kate Bush but she is someone who stood aside from her male peers from 1978 and I think her importance cannot be undermined. Ensure you look back on full body of work; her interviews and her videos and get a fuller impression of who Kate Bush is and why she is unique.

It is subjective when it comes to looking at an artist and claiming they are underrated but, as a huge fan of Kate Bush, I do think we need to go deeper. A deeper understanding – I shall stop the song-based puns – is required and I think there are artists today who could take a cue from her. Maybe they will not be able to match her voice and songwriting ability but there are so many aspects that can be taken to heart. From the incredible videos and warm interviews to the original lyrical bent and evolving albums; there is a lot to be admired and songwriters of today need to follow her closer. I do think, when it comes to looking at the reputation and brilliance of Kate Bush, so many drill her down to a few songs and moments. As The Kick Inside celebrates a new anniversary in a couple of weeks, it is worth listening to the album harder and not just talking about Wuthering Heights and The Man with the Child in His Eyes. This year is an interesting one as you’d think, logically, there will be something from Kate Bush regarding new material. Maybe that is a bold prediction but I am hopeful. Bush has definitely made the music news in the past year and it is clear her impact and influence will never wane! It is clear Kate Bush has a special place in the hearts of fans, the media and fellow musicians but I think, in so many ways, the much-loved artist is...

UNDERRATED in so many ways.