CD: Kate Bush, Aerial


These days, record companies try to make every new album seem like a matter of unparalleled cultural import. The most inconsequential artists require confidentiality agreements to be faxed to journalists, the lowliest release must be delivered by hand. So it's hard not to be impressed by an album that carries a genuine sense of occasion. That's not to say EMI - which earlier this year transformed the ostensibly simple process of handing critics the Coldplay album into something resembling a particularly Byzantine episode of Spooks - haven't really pushed the boat out for Kate Bush's return after a 12-year absence. They employed a security man specifically for the purpose of staring at you while you listened to her new album. But even without his disconcerting presence, Aerial would seem like an event.

In the gap since 1993's so-so The Red Shoes, the Kate Bush myth that began fomenting when she first appeared on Top of the Pops, waving her arms and shrilly announcing that Cath-ee had come home-uh, grew to quite staggering proportions. She was variously reported to have gone bonkers, become a recluse and offered her record company some home-made biscuits instead of a new album. In reality, she seems to have been doing nothing more peculiar than bringing up a son, moving house and watching while people made up nutty stories about her.

Aerial contains a song called How to Be Invisible. It features a spell for a chorus, precisely what you would expect from the batty Kate Bush of popular myth. The spell, however, gently mocks her more obsessive fans while espousing a life of domestic contentment: "Hem of anorak, stem of wallflower, hair of doormat."

Domestic contentment runs through Aerial's 90-minute duration. Recent Bush albums have been filled with songs in which the extraordinary happened: people snogged Hitler, or were arrested for building machines that controlled the weather. Aerial, however, is packed with songs that make commonplace events sound extraordinary. It calls upon Renaissance musicians to serenade her son. Viols are bowed, arcane stringed instruments plucked, Bush sings beatifically of smiles and kisses and "luvv-er-ly Bertie". You can't help feeling that this song is going to cause a lot of door slamming and shouts of "oh-God-mum-you're-so-embarrassing" when Bertie reaches the less luvv-er-ly age of 15, but it's still delightful.

The second CD is devoted to a concept piece called A Sky of Honey in which virtually nothing happens, albeit very beautifully, with delicious string arrangements, hymnal piano chords, joyous choruses and bursts of flamenco guitar: the sun comes up, birds sing, Bush watches a pavement artist at work, it rains, Bush has a moonlight swim and watches the sun come up again. The pavement artist is played by Rolf Harris. This casting demonstrates Bush's admirable disregard for accepted notions of cool, but it's tough on anyone who grew up watching him daubing away on Rolf's Cartoon Club. "A little bit lighter there, maybe with some accents," he mutters. You keep expecting him to ask if you can guess what it is yet.

Domestic contentment even gets into the staple Bush topic of sex. Ever since her debut, The Kick Inside, with its lyrics about incest and "sticky love", Bush has given good filth: striking, often disturbing songs that, excitingly, suggest a wildly inventive approach to having it off. Here, on the lovely and moving piano ballad Mrs Bartolozzi, she turns watching a washing machine into a thing of quivering erotic wonder. "My blouse wrapping around your trousers," she sings. "Oh, and the waves are going out/ my skirt floating up around my waist." Laundry day in the Bush household must be an absolute hoot.

Aerial sounds like an album made in isolation. On the down side, that means some of it seems dated. You can't help feeling she might have thought twice about the lumpy funk of Joanni and the preponderance of fretless bass if she got out a bit more. But, on the plus side, it also means Aerial is literally incomparable. You catch a faint whiff of Pink Floyd and her old mentor Dave Gilmour on the title track, but otherwise it sounds like nothing other than Bush's own back catalogue. It is filled with things only Kate Bush would do. Some of them you rather wish she wouldn't, including imitating bird calls and doing funny voices: King of the Mountain features a passable impersonation of its subject, Elvis, which is at least less disastrous than the strewth-cobber Aussie accent she adopted on 1982's The Dreaming. But then, daring to walk the line between the sublime and the demented is the point of Kate Bush's entire oeuvre. On Aerial she achieves far, far more of the former than the latter. When she does, there is nothing you can do but willingly succumb.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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