Kate Bush referred to this album as her “I’ve gone mad” album. Released in 1982 it went to Number 3 in the UK album charts but mostly succeeded in alienating her audience, confusing the critics and selling substantially less than any of her solo albums before and after. It is of course a great album, ahead of its time and unfortunately exposes the fickleness of the public and the press. Is it left of centre? Yes it is, but it is also innovative, lyrically powerful, passionately sung, produced with great vision and even catchy. It wasn’t a record made by a school girl sitting behind a piano or flirting with interpretive dance in wispy chiffon. It was dark, engaging and dense.
The record company playback party must have been a solemn affair. Their star had delivered something that the shallow pop business didn’t want, that the promotion team didn’t want and even the public didn’t want. Her previous album, Never Forever had three hit singles and debuted in the British charts at Number 1, a feat never before achieved by a female artist – and she wrote her own songs. She was sexy, talented, young, critically acclaimed and successful, was she trying to sabotage her own career? EMI had tried to push the sexy side of Kate Bush to the public before, not realising that this was a serious artist who didn’t have to sell herself in that way and who could sell her music to the public on its own merits. Also they had finally relented and let her produce her own record, so why had she let them down?
No one was going to manipulate her, especially as she got older, wiser and her artistic visions began to develop and evolve, plus she had achieved enough success to call the shots. She had to be in charge of her own musical destiny and we all had to follow – some of us more willingly than others. The record still managed to reach Number 3 in the charts, so there were substanial sales. But another reason that the record sounded like this was because she had discovered the Fairlight CMI, a digital sampling synthesiser. In fact the first time the Fairlight had ever been used was on her previous album Never Forever and that’s where she got the taste for it. Ultimately it was the record company that was letting her down if they did not get behind her for this challenging artistic project.
With all her success she had only managed one tour, and that was in 1979. She had three successful albums and needed to spend more time on creating her art rather than promoting it. MTV aired its first video in August 1981 with Video Killed The Radio Star, in Kate Bush’s case it was Video Killed The Touring Star! This was perfect for her – she was a dancer, she had studied mime with Lindsay Kemp (as had Bowie) and with a whole lot of literal interpretations of her lyrics (or arty tangents), she could act out the stories of her songs to a world wide audience and stay at home and work on her records. And that is exactly what she did – and still does.
The first single from the album was Sat In Your Lap and was released more than a year before the album even came out. It reached Number 11 in the UK charts and was a bizarre left of centre noise fest with banging rhythms, histrionic vocals, obscure lyrics and a video that looked like an outtake from a Fellini film. In a word it was great, it was innovative, it was striking, it was madness and it was shocking to her fans. No one expected this. But it was Kate embedded in her own studio producing her own record using the people she wanted to help her record her ideas as she saw them. It sounds more like the operatic progressive French band Magma than an English waif – it must have scared Nina Hagen half to death! It was a massive artistic success despite its classification as part of a commercial failure.
The second track was the third single from the album and after a lack lustre performance by the title track that came out on the album’s release, There Goes A Tenner failed to chart at all. I’m not sure whether it’s too theatrical or too Morecombe and Wise? But singing in Arthur Mullard’s accent about “doing a job” on a bank in a Sarf Landan gang might have been just too pantomime for her old fans and failed to interest new ones. I loved it, it was artistic, it was humorous, it was catchy, it had a lurching beat, interesting instrumentation and it was real story telling. On top of it all, it was quintessintially English wrapped in the sound of now. Obviously my affection for this track wasn’t shared. It had a non-album track Ne t’enfuis pas (Don’t Run Away) as a B-side. This song was in turn released in France and Canada with a translation of An Infant Kiss (Un Baiser D’ Enfant) from Never Forever on its B-side).
Pull Out The Pin was a controversial Vietnam song from the point of view of a Vietnamese soldier. Sung in her most dramatic voice and with the repeating “I love life” screamed out under the blades of a helicopter, it compounded the idea that the war meant little to the American soldier (“He’s big and pink”) and a lot to the Vietnamese. It was truly controversial being only seven years from the end of that conflict.
“You learn to ride the earth,
When you’re living on your belly and the enemy is city-birth.
Who need radar? We use scent.
They stink of the west, stink of sweat.
Stink of cologne and baccy, and all their yankee hash.
With my silver buddha
And my silver bullet,
(I’m pulling on the pin)”
Fairlight is used in abundance on this track with Del Palmer’s fretless bass also featuring heavily – and the strangest guitars. She almost slurs the words:
“I had not seen his face,
Till I’m only feet away
Unbeknown to my prey.
I look in American eyes.
I see little life,
See little wife.
He strike a violence up in me.
With my silver buddha
And my silver bullet.”
Suspended in Gaffa was released as a single, but not in England. They made a frighteningly eighties video for it anyway. The lighting, angles and script trap it in its era and even though it features some of her better interpretive dance moves, it can’t be rescued. I absolutely love this song, she whispers and she screams and sings inbetween with that gorgeous voice. I can see why Peter Gabriel became interested in here, she shares some kind of modern vision of his own seventies art rock both lyrically and visually but from a feminine point of view. Still, I cannot grasp what the song is actually about, it sounds like a song from the circus – is this where the “gaffa” reference comes from? Is she a circus performer in this song? Kate?
Leave It Open is total art rock, an update on Bowie’s Hunky Dory or Cockney’s Rebel’s The Human Menagerie, drums but no cymbals (as on the whole album), engineer Nick Launay’s sampled snare drum sounds and Kate’s witches brew, the song sounds likes something from Macbeth – something supernatural. Strange vocal effects and is she delirious with pleasure or being tortured?
“With my ego in my gut,
My babbling mouth would wash it up.
(But now I’ve started learning how,)
I keep it shut.
My door was never locked,
Until one day a trigger come cocking.
(But now I’ve started learning how,)
I keep it shut.
Wide eyes would clean and dust
Things that decay, things that rust.”
Is this fear, suppression under threat of physical violence? Is it self protection? In the end it all becomes ethereal and witchy again as she sings:
“We let the weirdness in” in multi tracked effected devilish voices.
The Dreaming featuring Rolf Harris and Percy Thrower (Did I mention Morecombe and Wise?) has a ghostly tribal rhythm exposing the plight of the Aboriginal people in relation to land rights and mining.
Erase the race that claim the place
And say we dig for ore,
Or dangle devils in a bottle
And push them from the pull of the bush
You can’t really hear the lyrics on this album, you have to read them and then immerse yourself in the songs, you can’t decipher them by just listening, especially on songs like this where she sings like one possessed. Didgeridoo and sticks and breathing, it’s like a conversation between the cheating white man and the magical tribesmen and then at the end – fiddles! It’s like the white man has taken over and is playing his own music on their land – the ultimate insult.
If you are interested in The Dreaming as in the meaning for the Aboriginal people then go here:
This is an excerpt from the link above:
“The Dreaming is a term used by Aborigines to describe the relations and balance between the spiritual, natural and moral elements of the world. It is an English word but its meaning goes beyond any suggestion of a spiritual or dream-related state. Rather, the Dreaming relates to a period from the origin of the universe to a time before living memory or experience – a time of creator ancestors and supernatural beings.”
Night Of The Swallow is one of her made up stories, always looking for stories outside herself. In this scenario a lover is taking on a risky job by flying some suspicious types out of the country secretly. It’s the first track on the record that bears any similarity to anything on her previous three albums.
All the Love is also more like what you would expect. I love the way she swallows her voice when she sings the chorus. A song about showing love perhaps in the wake of death when it’s all too late.
Houdini, not the title track but the song that accompanies the cover art. All the tricks of how Houdini practiced his art and saw through the mediums. She poses as his wife passing the key,
With a kiss
I’d pass the key
And feel your tongue
Teasing and receiving
With your spit
Still on my lip
You hit the water
Everybody thinks you’ll never make it
But every time
And then this visceral vocal:
With your life
The only thing in my mind
We pull you from the water
It’s back to the mad woman with the last track Get Out Of My House. A song that could be taken literally but might be dealing with other psychological battles with her own self. Trying to interpret other people’s ideas from their lyrics is difficult when these words are in a ‘song’, she’s not writing down facts – it’s not an essay. It may or may not be true, it might be a catharsis, it might be fictional or a real situation. Whatever it is, on this song she is aggressively screaming out and the song fits more into the sonic theme of the record. Whatever she is trying to say she wrenches it out from her gut.
The Dreaming is a magnificent record but mostly a record she had to make after the first three. A record that she had to literally spew out of her mind and body. If she hadn’t made this, she wouldn’t have made Hounds Of Love, her next masterpiece. This record directed her to that place and onwards. If we could only have her more often.