November 08, 2005

Music Review: Aerial by Kate Bush

Music front cover
Title:
Aerial
Artist:
Kate Bush
ASIN:
B000BEPLUE
Rating:
5 out of 5 stars

This is a magnificent work. One reaches the end of the CD, all seven fascinating, complex, rich, colourful songs, and then you remember that it includes a second even more stunning set of nine songs on the second CD.

Like many people, I have spent twenty years listening to Kate's 1985 work Hounds of Love, especially the Ninth Wave suite of songs that make up its second side. And even now I occasionally find new subtleties. That was and still is a real adventure in sound and words. It was the best of Kate's work, perhaps because it takes an arrangement that always works to great effect (Kate, piano, and an ensemble of some of the best classical, folk and jazz musicians), and punctuates it with uncanny unexpected sounds and narratives that are completely new and unheard. Beauty and recognition right alongside and seeping almost indiscernibly into dark humour, horror, terror, loss, madness, and quite often a becoming-animal with which she has happily bewildered an unsuspecting pop world (finally Front Row have acknowledged that this isn't pop). Listen, for example, to the utterly bestial human-donkey braying at the end of Get Out of My House from 1982.

There is, as I think Kate has indicated, a continuity between Aerial and Hounds of Love. This time she gets a bit more time and space to play with (12 years, 2 discs, and a really nice CD case and booklet). All of the above mentioned characteristics are there. Joanni, for example, in which Joan of Arc is reincarnated from myth to real complex sonorous woman. Listen to the strange obstinate vocal towards the end.

I'm not going to give a summary or critique of all of the songs. More importantly, a suggestion of how to listen to this music. For a start, recognize that it's very expansive, much more so than her last two albums, and certainly more so than any other current songwriter. So don't expect to get the whole story in one go, or perhaps even in twenty years. But you will still get instant gratification. There are sounds and ideas in here that will hit you instantly, and stay with you for a very long time. Listen lots, and listen carefully. And do read the lyrics. They are quite obviously the product of a writer, not someone hooking words onto sounds. And then watch out for and consider the surprising ways in which the words and music negotiate with each other: the innovation, the real magic is in the often difficult relationship between narrative and sound, almost (but only ever almost) to the point at which it falls down.

I wrote some time ago about painting and chaos - the haptic physicality of the hand and the brush, the diagram that is the brush stroke marking out a concentration of light, world, body, eye, mind etc. And then also how, as Deleuze argues in Logic of Sensation, music takes off from painting - colour becoming disembodied in sound and penetrating surfaces (and identities), finding a line of flight, going further than light, which is subject to shadows and the phases of day and night, but at the same time (especially in nature, birdsong) dependent on and anticipating light. Sound carries through the darkness, and as in the Ninth Wave, is a defence against and means of reterritorializing darkness: a refrain as D&G would say.

The second CD, A Sky of Honey, does exactly that. It is a passage from day through sunset, a nocturn, and back to morning. From the chaos, colour and chance of a painter. Through colour's dissipation into sunset, and its preservation in the night sky, and then back again with sound (the song of birds) anticipating the return of the morning light (see an earlier entry on the refain and birdsong via Olivier Messiaen).

I said there is deep complexity in this music. But I also said that you will get instant gratification. A Sky of Honey gives exactly that. It is thoroughly gorgeous – like Seville, of which it reminds me (watching painters in the gardens of the Real Alcazar, sitting in mellow cafes, being invaded by wild flamenco buskers). You will be overwhelmed with the beauty of the sounds and the words. I am.

Ask me again in twenty years, i'll still be listening then.

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