Author: Bruce Jenkins Date Posted:24 May 2019
From the time she topped the charts with her swooping, swooning debut single “Wuthering Heights”, Kate Bush has been a unique—and uniquely talented—voice. When her first album came out in 1978, Kate was just 19 years old, inexperienced in the music industry but possessed of both confidence and determination. It was the young singer/composer who insisted that the first single be her song-portrait of the famous Jane Eyre novel, a choice opposed by the record company but which yielded an international hit and the distinction of being the first UK woman to take the #1 spot with a song she had written herself. Albums followed regularly, gaining critical plaudits and popular acclaim. In 2005, twelve years after her seventh album, Kate Bush released Ariel, a double album as burnished and golden as its sun-drenched cover.
Like the earlier Hounds of Love (1985) album, Ariel is divided into two halves. The first disc is “A Sea of Honey” and contains seven songs, opening with the restless “King of the Mountain”. This—the only single from the album—takes Elvis Presley as its subject. To those familiar with Bush’s esoteric or, for that matter, her sensual concerns, this is a surprise. But fear not. The lyric explores the rock icon’s afterlife, his spiritual presence and mythology. It is gently funky, engaging and slightly strange; a bit like Ms Bush herself.
This entrancing eccentricity meanders through the rest of the first record, with the second song, “∏” showing (to quote the lyric) “a complete fascination with the calculation of Pi”. Few could pull this off, but Bush does, largely due to the magic of that voice; who knew numbers are dead sexy?
“Bertie” is a song of devotion to her son, the primary reason for her sabbatical from music, while the delicious “Mrs Bartolozzi” manages to be both wistful and just a bit naughty while singing about a washing machine doing its stuff. Or is it an elegy for a lost love? With Kate Bush, a reverence for the routine is raised to art. Couple this prismatic spray of subjects with the variety of musical settings—folk here, strings there, solo with piano, some tasteful rocking—and you have a neckless of sparkling diversity; unassuming but delightful on closer inspection.
“A Sky of Honey” is a suite of songs and music filling the second record of Ariel. A journey from morning to the following dawn, this reaching, floating, surging imaginary soundtrack has all the artistry and sonic detail fans of Kate Bush love. Her concerns are humanity as it is lived in concert with nature, her songs ecstatic and mundane.
The care and richness of the music are reflected in the booklet, and seen to great advantage in the 2018 remastered albums. Photos and lyrics present an interwoven canvas, including a magic reveal that shows the mountain landscape of the front cover to be, in fact, the waveform of a blackbird’s song.
Ariel is a mature and expansive work that adds to Kate Bush’s reputation. She is an artist of individual vision and meticulous methods who finds inspiration in the enchantment of the everyday.
Bruce Jenkins © 2019