Culture

A Guided Tour Through Kate Bush's 10 Studio Albums

Check out Clay’s review of Kate Bush’s recent London concert here.

If Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights” above intrigues, here are some capsule summaries of her 10 studio albums, from 1978 to 2011:

The Kick Inside – 1978

Her first and perhaps still her best, where her romantic inspirations were at their freshest and quirkiest, with songs she’d been writing for much of her young life. Besides “Wuthering Heights,” there’s “James and the Cold Gun,” perhaps the closest thing to hard rock. The rest is hauntingly melodic, heady and naive, capturing a moment when all of life still feels fresh as a daisy.

A-

Lionheart

Lionheart  – 1978

A clanging, meandering rush job, though not as bad as its awful second-album syndrome reputation suggests. Still it could have used more seasoning and weeding of bad puns like “Don’t Push Your Foot on the Heartbreak.” Some of the slower ones are more mood pieces than successful songs. Hidden gem: “Fullhouse,” about a very English nervous breakdown. Prepare to duck and cover on the high notes.

C+

Never for Ever – 1980

A crazed yet confident and controlled effort, with Bush’s shrieking and haunting vocals , perhaps her most consistent record. “Babooshka” was her biggest UK hit since “Wuthering Heights,” and “Violin” just rocks (I hold the minority belief that Bush is at her best when she rocks).

B+

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The Dreaming – 1982

Some found it pretentious, and it is, but I enjoy getting lost in its dark aural density. The record feels like a jungle veldt with hidden lasers, dense but beguiling and intellectually fulfilling art rock mixed in with haunting balladry on her usual outre subjects — “Houdini,” for one. The title cut risks ridicule with Bush’s attempt at an Australian accent and hip protest (Aborigines) but it gets across on verve. In fact, none of these very ambitious works actually fall flat on its face, an achievement in itself.

A-

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Hounds of Love  – 1985

Her U.S. breakthrough, yielding her sole Top 40 hit stateside with “Running Up That Hill,” and the favorite Bush album of apparently everyone but me. On the plus side, there’s her loveliest single “Cloudbusting,” and “The Big Sky” builds up to an exciting wall of drums and impressive shrieking vocals. Side 2 (remember those?) is subtitled “The Ninth Wave,” and though it worked just fine on stage, I’ve never been much for pop song suites since Abbey Road.

B

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The Sensual World  – 1989

Here’s where the artist declares victory over the entertainer. A good thing or not? Nearly as dense as The Dreaming and leaden with significance, overworked, self-consciously artsy, a touch removed from the warmth of previous work. There are some trite rhymes, and “Deeper Understanding” is about alienation via computer — a cliche even back then. But the title track is sexy and beguiling, and with just one song — the wrenching, poignant paean to childbirth from a man’s perspective, “This Woman’s Work,” all is forgiven.

B-

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The Red Shoes – 1993

An underrated reappearance after a long hiatus (though impatient fans would have to wait much longer in the future). Surprisingly mainstream, supple and snappy. The funky “Rubberband Girl” is as bouncy as the title infers, while “Moments of Pleasure” is simply gorgeous. Plus a guest turn by Prince!

B

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Aerial – 2005

A return after she stepped out of the studio 12 years to raise her son, “Aerial” is a double album of compositions, pretty and worthy and boring save the Elvis-inspired single “King of the Mountain,” her last Top 10 in England. “Bertie” is a lively Irish jig about her son. “A Sky Full of Honey” is 42 minutes long, while “Pi” features that number sung to 117 digits. Caveat emptor.

C+

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Director’s Cut – 2011

A surprisingly effective reworking of old songs, some arted up, some whittled down. “Rubberband Girl” is reworked with muffled vocals that make it sound like a mono recording of a skiffle band, while “Lily” is opened up, its tinny synthesizer sound made more expansive and dramatic. An experiment that worked.

B+

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50 Words for Snow – 2011

A seven song, piano-dominated concept album about you guessed it. Unfortunately, I’m troglodyte enough to like my tempos up a bit. Famous friends Elton John and Stephen Fry help Bush tell intriguing stories of time-travel among star-crossed lovers and making love to a snowman. But the music lacks dynamics. Perhaps it would fit the mood on a snowed-in night, along with a hot cuppa tea, but it’s more interesting as a lyric sheet than a record.

C