FEATURE: The Misunderstood Child: Kate Bush’s The Dreaming




The Misunderstood Child

PHOTO CREDIT: John Carder Bush 

Kate Bush’s The Dreaming


IT is interesting looking at Kate Bush’s career...

 IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush in 1982/PHOTO CREDIT: Guido Harari

and how she went through these different, remarkable phases. The Dreaming is an album that split opinion when it was released. Fans who really got what she was doing loved the album – Bush experimenting and taking control of production – but many critics were not a fan of the shifting moods and the sense of the eccentric. To be fair, she hinted in the direction of The Dreaming’s sound on the previous album, Never for Ever. I do feel like 1982 – when The Dreaming was released – was a key year when Bush had been working with other producers and felt, more often than not, a cog rather than the person controlling the machine. 1980’s Never for Ever was a success and contained incredible singles such as Babooshka. It was a bold step from her previous album, Lionheart (1978), and we were seeing this confident and extraordinary artist growing and spreading her wings. One of the reasons The Dreaming gets negative press from some is because of the sheer intensity of the music. Whether it is the rush of Sat in Your Lap, Get Out of My House or the sense of heartache in All the Love – it is an album that consumed a lot of Bush’s time and energy. In 1981 and 1982, Bush was working hard on the album and, with newer technologies such as the Fairlight at her disposal, it gave her music fresh possibility and horizons.

If previous albums were more accessible and straighter, The Dreaming was Bush taking everything in; ranging from songs about aboriginal Australians (The Dreaming), crime capers (There Goes a Tenner) and escapology (Houdini). Taking on production responsibilities, Bush was working all hours and, to be honest, her health and well-being sort of took a beat-seat to the demands of the music. Her diet was not great and she was threatening to burn herself out. One can hear every morsel and ounce of Bush in The Dreaming. Upon its initial release, there was a mixed reception. Some were confused by the experimental tracks and how there was not a cohesive, singular sound. Others struggled to get behind the different sounds and instruments played – The Dreaming was definitely a busy album! Prior to The Dreaming, there was this feeling that Bush was being controlled to an extent; she was not 100% happy with her work or, at the very least, wanted to have a greater say. She wanted a rawer sounds that, whilst it was shaping up in Never for Ever, it was fully realised through The Dreaming. I think The Dreaming is one of Bush’s most exciting, varied and rewarding albums. There is this split between spiritual desires and the quest for love; songs about history and a sense of the classical and a great balance between fun and serious – the track order is perfect as to allow the listener breath when needed. Maybe critics were looking for a hit like Wuthering Heights or Babooshka: The Dreaming does not boast anything like that.

Those who are a bit unsure of The Dreaming highlight how much of a shift there is from Never for Ever in terms of songs and the general tone. EMI were not thrilled The Dreaming took two years to see the light of day (that was considered a long time back then!) but look at artists today and how long they take between albums – and how the resultant release is not nearly as striking and busy as The Dreaming. This review from Pitchfork highlighted how The Dreaming was a turning point for Kate Bush; a stunning work that is much less about commercial sense and more of a truly personal vision:

“The Dreaming was a turning point from Kate Bush, pop star to Kate Bush, artist: a fan favorite for the same reason it was a commercial failure. Part of the Athena myth around Bush is that she arrived to EMI at 16 with a huge archive of songs, and from this quiver came most of the material for the first four albums. The Dreaming was her first album of newly composed work and for it, her first real chance to rethink her songwriting praxis and to produce the songs on her own. Using mainly a Linn drum machine and the Fairlight CMI—an early digital synth she came to master in real time—she cut and pasted layers of timbres and segments of sound rather than recording mixing lines of instruments, a method that would later be commonplace among the producer-musician. At the time, it was still considered odd, especially for a first-time producer, and especially for a young woman prone to fabulous leotards.


IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush in 1982/PHOTO CREDIT: Steve Rapport Photography 

All this excess is her sound: a strongly held belief that unites all of the The Dreaming. Nearly half of the album is devoted to spiritual quests for knowledge and the strength to quell self-doubt. Frenetic opener “Sat in Your Lap” was the first song written for the album. Inspired by hearing Stevie Wonder live, it serves as meta-commentary of her step back from the banality of pop ascendancy that mocks shortcuts to knowledge. A similar track, “Suspended in Gaffa,” laments falling short of enlightenment through the metaphor of light bondage in black cloth stagehand tape. It is a pretty queer-femme way of thinking through the very prog-rock problem of being a real artist in a commercial theater form, which is probably why it’s a fan favorite”.

The Dreaming was the lead-up and first signs of what Hounds of Love would contain. After The Dreaming’s release, Bush moved to the countryside (and away from London); she took up dance again and changed her diet. She set up her own studio and, in the idyllic surroundings, created this masterpiece that is considered her finest work. There were reservations among those at EMI whether Bush should produce another album. Given the fact The Dreaming was not a huge commercial success and took a while to arrive, there were raised eyebrows – she proved everything wrong when Hounds of Love arrived in 1985.


 IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush in 1982/PHOTO CREDIT: Steve Rapport Photography

I think The Dreaming is vastly underrated because it is crammed with texture and sounds. It is a busy album but one that never overwhelms and pushes one away. So many albums fall flat after a few listens but The Dreaming is one that unfurls and reveals new beauty after a few plays. Songs like Houdini are lush and graceful - almost classical and traditional -, whereas Sat in Your Lap and The Dreaming are more frenetic and charged. Bush married the technology and breakthroughs of the early-1980s with something more traditional and sparse. Listen to the real thrill and scares one hears on the album closer, Get Out of My House. This house, as Bush says, contains her mistakes and madness. Bush said The Dreaming was sort of her going a bit mad so, in a way, the closer seems like a perfect distillation of The Dreaming: the madness and intensity demanded but such confidence, talent and originality. Bush could have released something commercial that pleased the label but, instead, we have this very modern-sounding (it still sounds modern today!) record that was the work of an artist pushing boundaries and challenging conventions. Look at other albums released in 1982 – including Michael Jackson’s Thriller and ABC’s The Lexicon of Love – and there was nothing like it around. In terms of Pop, Madonna was emerging and would release her eponymous album the following year. The likes of Duran Duran and Yazoo were in the charts in 1982 so one can understand why critics were a bit taken aback by The Dreaming!

Many had followed Bush closely in 1978 and maybe were not expecting a leap like The Dreaming. Bush won back many with Hounds of Love and, without The Dreaming, Hounds of Love would not have happened. That may sound obvious but I mean Bush was moving away from convention and other producers; she was assuming more responsibilities and, whilst The Dreaming took a lot out of her, you can tell this record meant so much to her. This is the always-curious and ambitious artist letting her imagination run wild. In 2019, can one say we have any albums out that are as daring and bold as The Dreaming!? Sure, there are great albums around but nothing quite as eye-opening and hypnotic as Bush’s fourth. I think The Dreaming is one of those albums that took a while to resonate and win favour; modern critics have been kinder and underlined its importance. Drowned in Sound, back in 2016, had this to say:

Perhaps the greatest joy of the record, though, comes from immersing yourself in the narratives that Bush presents, and realising how her words and the music have a symbiotic, almost dependent relationship. The Ninth Wave (her conceptual mini-record about a person drifting alone in the sea at night that formed the second side of Hounds Of Love) would later demonstrate that Bush could write a beautiful, focused narrative over the course of song cycle. But the individual tracks on The Dreaming show off some of Bush’s most fascinating short stories, spanning an ambitiously large range of subjects – it’s at times difficult to believe that she suffered from writer’s block.

The Dreaming is therefore tirelessly imaginative, asking the listener to submerge themselves in a wealth of illusory and semi-fictional realms. But it’s also remarkable for what happened behind the scenes as well. Bush had made steps into production before, on the EP On Stage and on Never For Ever, where she was aided by engineer Jon Kelly. Here though, she took the bold step to produce the entirety of the album alone. While she did collaborate to some extent with a few engineers (such as Nick Launay, who had previously worked with Public Image Ltd and Phil Collins), the control that Bush had on the record is plain to hear at every twist and turn. She extensively made use of the Fairlight CMI – one of the earliest workstations with an embedded digital sampling synthesiser – and a number of other state-of-the-art machines when recording.

The Dreaming, by contrast, remains the overlooked jewel in her canon. But while it may be challenging and uncompromising, it’s almost hard to imagine what Kate Bush would be like today if she hadn’t released it. A staggeringly bold step forward for her as a singer, songwriter and producer, The Dreaming was a milestone both for Bush herself and the wider world of music”.

The Dreaming was that wonderful bridge between the promise and bloom of 1980’s Never for Ever and the peak of Hounds of Love in 1985…                                

There is so much to enjoy with The Dreaming and, yes, it can be challenging at times and not every song is a success. The reason I think The Dreaming is underrated is because of the themes Bush addresses and how many sounds she brings to the plate. The Dreaming is so heady and fulsome; there is something for everyone and, to me, this was her most personal album to that point. Life would change noticeably for Bush post-1982 and she did undergo a sort of revival and refresh. Without the intoxicating madness and demands of The Dreaming, maybe we would not have got the Hounds of Love we have – a different-sounding record, perhaps. That time definitely gave Bush a taste of solo producing and it was clear that, from that point, she wanted to produce her own albums. If you are new to Kate Bush – where have you been?! – I would start with albums like Hounds of Love and The Kick Inside (1978) as they are more accessible. The Dreaming definitely needs to be in your thoughts. It is a remarkable work unlike anything else that can sit passion and love alongside the political and the plain insane! Any artist who ends an album with Houdini and Get Out of My House (very different songs that seem like they are from two different artists!) clearly warrants respect and appreciation. Maybe The Dreaming will not win everyone around but I still think it is seen as an odd child; a record that is a bit too scattershot and strange to truly grab the imagination. To me, The Dreaming is a record that opened a new world, not just for Kate Bush but the wider musical landscape. It is a fantastic album that, almost thirty-seven years after its release (it was released on 13th September, 1982), sound completely brilliant, underrated and…

UNLIKE anything else.