The Underrated Gem, the Experimental Fever Dream and the Critical Favourite
IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush in an outtake from the Hounds of Love cover shoot (1985)/PHOTO CREDIT: John Carder Bush
Three Brilliant Kate Bush Albums Celebrating Anniversaries in September
THE good thing about Kate Bush…
IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush in 1982/PHOTO CREDIT: Guido Harari
is that all of her albums remain fascinating; every anniversary allows us to a chance to explore an album from a new angle. As most of her albums are released at the end of summer through to winter, there is a long stretch where we do not get to mark anniversaries. It has been a fairly quiet period regarding Kate Bush news: she has popped up here and there but nothing in the way of fresh material. Many celebrated her birthday a few weeks back (30th July) and we are all awaiting the moment a new album is on its way – one hopes it is not too long! September and November are months, clearly, that suit Kate Bush in terms of album releases. I shall talk about the November-released albums in a couple of months but, ahead of the thirty-ninth anniversary of Never for Ever on 8th September, I want to celebrate a trio of records with very different sounds. We have the underrated and brilliant Never for Ever; the more divisive and bold The Dreaming and the critical favourite, Hounds of Love. Here, with reviews, background and choice songs, are three remarkable Kate Bush albums we get to...
IN THIS PHOTO: Kate Bush in 1980/PHOTO CREDIT: Andy Phillips/Getty Images
RE-EXPLORE next month
Never for Ever
COVER DESIGN: Nick Price
Release Date: 7th September, 1980
Producers: Jon Kelly/Kate Bush
Production on Never for Ever began after Kate Bush’s 1979 tour and it was her second step into production – she helped produced the On Stage E.P. and her curiosity was growing. Alongside Jon Kelly, Bush delivered an album that was more experimental and personal than her previous two (The Kick Inside and Lionheart of 1978) and, as you can tell on the record, the songs are more eclectic and daring. This sense of expansion and variety would augment and go in different directions on The Dreaming (1982) but, as an album, Never for Ever is hugely underrated and under-explored. Never for Ever was Kate's first number-one album. It was also the first ever album by a British female solo artist to top the U.K. album chart, as well as being the first album by any female solo artist to enter the chart at the top spot.
“When it came out in 1980, Never For Ever, was the most expansive and conceptual work that Bush had released. It is suitably Floydian in parts, unsurprising given the early mentorship that Bush received from Pink Floyd guitarist Dave Gilmour. That influence seldom dilutes the impact of Kate’s distinctive voice. This is an album where Kate Bush, as songwriter, really shines through; It often feels like an aural storybook, creating a rich tapestry of tales drawn from the annals of history, art, and popular culture. From her imagining the final years of composer Frederick Delius’ life in Delius to retelling the 1961 Brit horror film The Innocents in Infant’s Kiss, Bush’s lyrics bring a new and deeply personal perspective to old tales.
It’s an album of many strong moments. Babooshka, the record’s most well-known song, has lost none of its initial impact. Its compelling, understated, piano-driven verses contrast magnificently with the explosive, bombastic choruses, which affirm Bush’s status as one of the great voices of her generation. The Wedding List and the riotous, pseudo hard-rock of Violin are slyly witty and immaculately constructed. But it is the closing one-two punch of Army Dreamers and Breathing that is Never For Ever’s undoubted highlight. The former, a song about a mother wrestling with the guilt she feels over a soldier son’s death is sparsely arranged, with Bush’s understated vocal delivery proving particularly powerful.
37 years after its release, Never For Ever still shines as a catalytic moment for Kate Bush. It’s a fact reflected in the record’s phenomenal sales achievements; it was the first solo album by any female solo artist to enter the UK charts at number 1 and it stayed in the UK top 75 for a total of 23 weeks. But it’s not just the sales that make Never For Ever special. Powerful and compelling, displaying incredible maturity from the-then 23-year-old, it set Bush up for a string of classics – The Dreaming, Hounds of Love, The Sensual World – that are amongst the greatest albums of the 1980s. It’s because of the acclaim of those successive records that Never For Ever is often overlooked. It shouldn’t be though; it’s a forgotten classic, fully deserving of re-evaluation” – Alec Plowman
“The album features plenty of single worthy pop hits as usual but does offer much more collectively. Babooshka and Army Dreamers are examples of Kate exercising more of her descriptive lyrical style. On this record, Bush explores more concepts in her lyrics than previously. It's easy noticing the lyrical contrast with the album's opening and closing tracks. The opener, Babooshka is about a distrustful wife who ruins her marriage through seducing her husband under a pseudonym. The closer, Breathing finds Kate writing about her nervous actions through a more Bowie influenced style. From this point, Kate Bush adds even more variety to the mix. 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” - Sputnikmusic
Key Cuts: The Infant Kiss/Army Dreamers/Breathing
Standout Track: Babooshka
COVER PHOTO: John Carder Bush
Release Date: 13th September, 1982
Producer: Kate Bush
This is the moment Kate Bush assumed the mantle of producer and, perhaps, realised an ambition she had since the start of her career: to have control over her work and, as such, let her imagination run wild. Whilst The Dreaming is one of the most divisive albums of her career, it is also one of the most fascinating and nuanced. Making use of a variety of sounds, instruments and technologies, it is a kaleidoscopic album that is bursting with textures and possibilities. Songs tackle everything from a crime caper (There Goes a Tenner) to escapology (Houdini) and, nearly thirty-seven years after its release, The Dreaming sounds utterly audacious, hypnotic and wild. Bush would need a period to recuperate and regroup following an exhaustive recording period; she was drained after The Dreaming but, all these years later, the album sounds like nothing else. It is a singular work from a songwriter who was on the cusp of releasing her most celebrated and popular work.
“For those who only really know Bush from her most popular singles, The Dreaming might well seem insane. Even from its pounding, deeply rhythmic opening seconds, it becomes clear that it’s no ordinary Kate Bush record. ‘Sat In Your Lap’ drags you into her most avant-garde world kicking and, quite literally, screaming. It deals with existentialism and the quest for knowledge, Bush’s voice moving from languid, contemplative wonder to frustrated yelping on a whim.
Perhaps the most famous moments of lyrical magic come toward the end of the LP though. Stephen King’s novel The Shining was the driving force behind the shuddering closer ‘Get Out Of My House’, but while it is set in some form of hotel (there’s a repeated mention of the concierge), Bush’s take on King is even more disturbing than the novel. While the house still remains the source of madness (“This house is as old as I am / This house knows all I have done”), and the thunderous percussion only heightens the sense of dread, it’s not the most horrifying element of the track. There’s nothing that inspires more innate terror than hearing Bush and her fellow musicians begin to aggressively bray like donkeys, as if possessed by demonic spirits.
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” – Drowned in Sound
“The result was an internal unity, a more well-paced album than anything she’d done prior. The songs are full of rhythmic drive, moody synth atmospheres, and layered vocals free of the radio-friendly hooks on earlier albums. The sounds that kept her tethered to rock—such as guitar and rock drum cymbals—are mostly absent, as are the strings that sweetened her prior work. The fretless bass—often the masculine sparring partner to her voice—is still omnipresent.
When it works, her narrative portraits render precise individuals in richly drawn scenes—the empathy radiates out. In “Houdini” she fully inhabits the gothic romance of lost love, conjuring the panic, grief, and hope of Harry Houdini’s wife Bess. Bush was taken by Houdini’s belief in the afterlife and Bess’s loyal attempts reach him through séances. Bush conjured the horrified sounds of witnessing a lover die by devouring chocolate and milk to temporarily ruin her voice. Bess was said to pass a key to unlock his bonds through a kiss, the inspiration for the cover art and a larger metaphor for the depth of trust Bush wants in love. We must need what’s in her mouth to survive, and we must get it through a passionate exchange among willing bodies” – Pitchfork
Key Cuts: Sat in Your Lap/All the Love/Get Out of My House
Standout Track: Houdini
Hounds of Love
COVER PHOTO: John Carder Bush
Release Date: 16th September, 1982
Producer: Kate Bush
The experience of making The Dreaming was an intense and tiring one. Whilst EMI were not completely happy with the results, lack of sales success and wait since Never for Ever, one cannot argue Bush had a right to push herself and make the album she wanted to, as she wanted to. By 1983, Bush had moved from London to the countryside. She took up dance again (which she had not done for a while); she was eating more healthily (after existing off of fast food a lot previously) and built her own studio. Not only was Bush fitter and more energised but she had the inspiration of the countryside and fresh impetus. EMI were not thrilled she wanted to produce again but, in a different headspace to the one she was in prior to The Dreaming, Hounds of Love is very different album. It remains her most well-received and celebrated work; a moment when her ambitions, songwriting genius and drive coalesced into one of the greatest albums of the 1980s. It is not my favourite but even I cannot argue with the brilliance and importance of Hounds of Love.
“The Fairlight was a notoriously expensive and complex computer; the few who could afford and figure out how to play one during their ‘80s heyday were either established stars like Peter Gabriel and Stevie Wonder who were invested in cutting-edge sounds, or similarly brainy upstarts who funded their techno-pop through production. One such boffin, Landscape’s Richard James Burgess, helped program Bush’s Fairlight on the very first album to feature it, 1980’s Never for Ever, which was also the first UK chart-topping album by a British female solo artist, one that marked a transition between the symphonic sweep of Bush’s earliest albums and what followed.
Imagination’s pull is the subtext to Bush’s entire oeuvre, but that theme dominates Hounds of Love, and not least in the title track. Whereas her piercing upper register once defined her output, here she’s roaring from her gut, then pulling back, and the song shifts between panic and empathy. “Hounds of Love” boasts the big gated ’80s drum blasts Bush discovered while singing background on Gabriel’s “Games Without Frontiers,” and yet its cello just as percussive: It builds to suggest both her pulse and the heartbeat of the captured fox she comforts and identifies with. She fears love: “It’s coming for me through the trees,” she wails. Yet she craves it, so desire and terror escalate in a breathless Hitchcockian climax” – Pitchfork
“Hounds of Love is actually a two-part album (the two sides of the original LP release being the now-lost natural dividing line), consisting of the suites "Hounds of Love" and "The Ninth Wave." The former is steeped in lyrical and sonic sensuality that tends to wash over the listener, while the latter is about the experiences of birth and rebirth. If this sounds like heady stuff, it could be, but Bush never lets the material get too far from its pop trappings and purpose. In some respects, this was also Bush's first fully realized album, done completely on her own terms, made entirely at her own 48-track home studio, to her schedule and preferences, and delivered whole to EMI as a finished work; that history is important, helping to explain the sheer presence of the album's most striking element -- the spirit of experimentation at every turn, in the little details of the sound. That vastly divergent grasp, from the minutiae of each song to the broad sweeping arc of the two suites, all heavily ornamented with layered instrumentation, makes this record wonderfully overpowering as a piece of pop music. Indeed, this reviewer hadn't had so much fun and such a challenge listening to a new album from the U.K. since Abbey Road, and it's pretty plain that Bush listened to (and learned from) a lot of the Beatles' output in her youth” – AllMusic
Key Cuts: The Big Sky/Cloudbusting/Watching You Watching Me
Standout Track: Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)