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If there is one artist today who can still truly be described as unique, it’s Kate Bush. Many have tried to imitate her, but none have even come close to matching her continuing legacy.
Releasing her first album at the age of 19 (though she wrote many of her songs years earlier), Bush became the first female artist to have a self-penned song at number one with ‘Wuthering Heights’; arguably still her most famous song to date. After a second (and self-confessed weaker) album that same year, Bush embarked on a hugely successful concert tour; the only tour of her career. Her third album, Never for Ever in 1980, saw her become the first British solo female artist to enter the UK album charts at number one, and she is to date the only female to have a top 5 album in 5 continuous decades.
After 1993’s The Red Shoes, Bush took a twelve-year career break in which she made very few public appearances. She returned in 2005 with her album Aerial and followed that with an additional two albums in 2011: Directors’ Cut, a collection of new and improved versions of some of her old songs, and 50 Words for Snow, her most recent work to date, with guest appearances from the likes of Elton John and Stephen Fry. This year, she returned to the public eye once more with a series of London based shows – the first since her aforementioned 1979 tour. This sudden surge of attention towards Bush saw her break another record, as she became the first female performer to have eight albums chart in the UK Top 40 simultaneously; all 11 entered the top 50, and amount bettered only by Elvis Presley and the Beatles.
But what is it about Bush that has made her so revered by both fans and critics alike? Well her style, as mentioned, is unique; her music rarely sounds like anything else from the time it is released, and often, unlike other music of her own discography. Her first album, The Kick Inside, is mainly a piano-based affair, and worlds away from her most acclaimed album, 1985’s Hounds of Love; which in itself sounds very unlike 2005’s Aerial. Yet, there is some inherent quality that makes them all so unquestionably Kate Bush. It is astounding one woman can produce such a vast repertoire of songs on such an array of topics in such a diverse amount of styles whilst remaining identifiable, enjoyable and, perhaps most importantly, true to herself.
Bush isn’t afraid to try new things, and it shows. Her 1982 album The Dreaming was critically panned at the time but has since been recognised as her most inventive and one of her best. Perhaps the appeal of Kate Bush comes from the fact that when you sit down to listen to one of her songs for the first time, you have very little idea what you’re going to hear. Any type of song, about any kind of thing.
Bush’s lyrical topics are varied to say the least. Usually shying away from singing autobiographically, several of her songs focus on characters from films or books; ‘Wuthering Heights’ is a clear example of this, as is ‘The Sensual World’, where she adopts the voice of Molly Bloom from James Joyce’s Ulysses. She doesn’t stop at characters however: ‘Army Dreamers’ is a touching ode to the mothers of lost soldiers; ‘There Goes a Tenner’ is a comical account of a bank robbery gone wrong; ‘Misty’ recounts the tale of a love affair with a snowman; ‘Heads We’re Dancing’ tells the story of a woman going on an unknowing night out with Hitler; and ‘Pi’, as you might have guessed, involves Bush singing the number pi to over 100 decimal places. On the rare instances when she does sing about her own life, the results are incredible. ‘How to Be Invisible’ is a tongue-in-cheek song about her own media-ascribed reclusiveness and ‘Moments of Pleasure’ is a beautiful piece about people she lost. ‘A Coral Room’ stands as her most personal song however, dealing with the death of her mother.
36 years is a long time to have been in the public eye; particularly for someone only 56 years old. Very few artists with careers of that length manage to maintain originality, and yet Bush is arguably still as fresh as she was in 1978. No one, probably herself included, knows when we’ll be seeing some new material from her. It could be 12 months, it could be 12 years. But if there’s one thing we know for certain, it’s that it will be truly unique.