Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Two Discs Of Loreena McKennitt Meets Bjork: Aerial By Kate Bush!

The Good: Hints of sound
The Bad: Obscured, indecipherable or repeated lyrics, Music overbears vocals, Nothing sticks
The Basics: With two discs for Aerial, Kate Bush does not manage to create even one song that I would want to hear again, making one wish she stayed retired.

My only experience, before today, with Kate Bush was on Haley Westenra's otherwise unremarkable album Pure (reviewed here!); the best track on the album was a cover of Kate Bush's song "Wuthering Heights" and it was actually amazing. So, I set myself to finding a copy of Kate Bush's album that has that song. In the meantime, I picked up Kate Bush's album Aerial. This double disc set is almost enough to make me stop searching for The Kick Inside (which "Wuthering Heights" is on).

Broken into two discs, "A Sea of Honey" and "A Sky of Honey," Kate Bush's album Aerial is best described as an esoteric combination of classic vocals and new fusion pop. A more accurate, though less flattering, description would be mush. There are songs on Aerial that sound like they could come from Loreena McKennitt ("Bertie" sounds like it could be a b-side to "The Mummer's Dance") others sound like they are fresh from Bjork. The result is an album that has less of a creative distinction than sloppiness.

Aerial is one of those albums one would like to at least be able to say that it portrays a strong feminine voice well, but alas that is not the case. "Mrs. Bartolozzi" is almost indecipherable and almost all of the tracks suffer at one point or another by having music that overruns the vocals. It's like Kate Bush thought that it might be better for her to play music over her vocals.

Given the quality of the lyrics, she might have been right.

First off, the lyrics to many of the songs are almost indecipherable. People often complain about how difficult rap music is to understand, but on my recent review of "Fear Of A Black Planet" by Public Enemy (reviewed here!) I had to look up none of the lyrics. The group was articulate. For Aerial I was looking up lyrics left and right either to understand what Bush was singing or to confirm what she was singing to see if I was missing the meaning ("Pi" threw me as Bush is largely just singing the digits of the number Pi).

The second thing is that this is an awfully repetitive album. On "King of the Mountain," the first track on "A Sea of Honey," she sings "Wind is whistling" over and over and over and over again and this review just sat up at one point and shouted, "We GET IT! Move on!" I'm not in the habit of yelling at my speakers. Similarly, "Joanni" repeats "Joanni, Joanni wears a golden cross . . . / Joanni, Joanni blows a kiss to God . . . / Joanni, Joanni, Joanni, Joanni blows a kiss to God . . ." The net effect of much of the album is that the listener is waiting around for Kate Bush to actually SAY SOMETHING.

The tragic aspect of Aerial is that when one finally understands what it is that Kate Bush is singing, they are still likely to be disappointed. In "Mrs. Bartolozzi" the only lyrics I understood based on the vocal and musical presentation were "washing machine" repeated over and over again. Can you imagine my disappointment when I looked up the lyrics and learned that the lines preceding "washing machine" being repeated was just ". . . I took my laundry basket / And put all the linens in it / And everything I could fit in it / All our dirty clothes that hadn't gone into the wash / And all your shirts and jeans and things / And put them in the new washing machine . . ." Don't get me wrong, there aren't nearly enough pop-rock whatever songs about doing daily chores like doing laundry, but wow, this is a disappointing song.

Lyrically, Aerial has the feeling of Kate Bush, after a twelve-year absence from making music, sitting up, looking around at her life as a parent and making songs out of the grocery list. I anticipated that literally, though it was not present on Aerial. But the effect is pretty much the same. She's singing about the most mundane aspects of life, life as a parent and it's boring when it can be understood. She's not making it into anything extraordinary. Aerial ends up as more of a narcoleptic experience than soothing or enjoyable.

And the music is not terribly original or enjoyable or even distinct. Outside the annoying birds chirping throughout the "A Sky Of Honey" disc - Bush seemed to find the most grating ones she could - I've heard it before. It's piano, keyboards, light drum, occasional pop, but mostly just musical mush.

Generally, the music is limited in scope to instrumentals that alternate between obvious pop ("Somewhere In Between") to the dregs of elevator music (most of the rest of the album). I am very much into female artists who create a diverse listening experience, real artists who push the envelope. Kate Bush might have done that once. Aerial she's signing the numbers from Pi and singing about doing laundry and the net effect is this is two discs not worth listening to. Perhaps Bush needs another twelve years to rediscover how to make something meaningful and worthwhile.

And that's the nice version of my phrasing for Aerial.

I can't pick one track that I'd even be willing to hear again.

For more distinctive female voices, check out my reviews of:
The Crossing - Sophie B. Hawkins
Glowstars - Heather Nova
In The Time Of Gods - Dar Williams


For other music reviews, please visit my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing of all my album and singles reviews!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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  1. Ah, poor Mrs Bartolozzi! She does deserve a bit more credit, I believe. Don't get fooled by the seemingly simplistic washing routine lyrics.
    Picture this: woman with Italian name, people invading her home, she trying to erase the horrid memory by cleaning and washing. Clothes on the line, looking so alive...
    Look at the picture in the CD booklet. white washings but one bloodred garment. Don't you get a mental picture of a woman who's man has just been murdered by the mob...?
    Listen to her voice, shrill with pain, and the woman slowly degenerating into a state of simplistic madness, on her knees in front of her washing machine. shwishy shwoshy.... regressing into an infantile state of loss.... whilst the water in the washing machine reminds her of happier times with him.
    This isn't disappointing, this is sheer magic!

    1. Dear Adrian,

      You almost had me! First, thanks for reading!

      Second, I listen to the music as it is; if requires other materials (like the c.d. booklet) to make it comprehensible, then the music alone is the wrong medium. You tell a great story for this song (It's been quite a while since I listened to this album); it's unfortunate that I didn't get that.

      Third, it should be noted that my not getting it is hardly a defect of my attention; I listen to every album I get in at least eight times before writing a review!

      Finally, I respect your articulation. Kate Bush's fans seem especially . . . voracious; you have no idea how many comments I have not approved because of how they express pro-Bush thoughts far less constructively than you did.


  2. Hi !

    I've never listen to this album of Kate Bush actually, so I can't say anything about this one. But I usually don't judge an artist's entire repertoire only after hearing just one album as bad as it can be.

    So my advice to you is to keep an open mind and to do not stop searching for others albums of hers because I think you would really miss something.

    I am not a big Kate Bush fan but I have bought some albums of her on occasion, and even though I really didn't liked them all (The kick inside I actually didn't like that much by the way) but some others were much more enjoyable like my favorite The Dreaming, Never For Ever or Hounds of love.

    She was a major music act in the 80's. I remember that she had so many awards back then, that it must have drove Madonna nuts at the time. Because in terms of video awards, Madonna was nominated but second and Kate was always first.

    But I don't deny that people can change. And even though some artists are sometimes at the top of their game, it usually don't last forever.

    I think you could have a more honest view of her work if you tried to listen to a best of compilation first.

    1. There are only so many hours in the day.

      If I get an artist's "lemon album" as the first thing of theirs I listen to, I do move on. Maybe when I'm 80, I'll have enough time to listen to all the music I want to, but as a reviewer, I want to listen to a lot of different things. But I'm not going to spend time on someone whose work does not impress me at all at the outset. In fact, if I don't like someone's first work I hear of theirs, I'm moving on. That's what happened with Kate Bush with me.

      She may have plenty of other great albums. "Aerial" was not one and it did not inspire me to hunt down anything else by her. Maybe in the future I will, but not now.

      Thanks for reading and thanks for the comment!

  3. Hi ! It's me again.

    Of course, I didn't not want to upset you or to force you to do anything you don't want to, how could I.

    And I understand perfectly that some albums can sometimes be like a cold shower, I've had my share of them myself.

    I only wanted to point out that if say Behavior/Songs of faith and devotion or Faith were the only albums I've ever heard of bands like Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode or The Cure, I'm sure I would have given up on them myself as well, and it would have been a huge mistake on my part, that's all I'm saying.

    But it's all up to you naturally. Besides, I know there is a zillion music acts more interresting than Kate Bush for you to sink your teeth into.

    1. Thanks for your comment!

      It's a danger ant artist has when releasing any work; if it's not their best possible work, they risk not picking up or maintaining their audience. There are only four musical artists whose works I buy consistently "sight unseen" and of them, one had her first dud in her discography with her last album, so I feel very lucky. The judging by one album is probably intensified for me as a reviewer; it might seem especially harsh because if I don't hit upon the "magic album" right away, I do move on. Only so many hours in the day! :)

      Sometimes, I even know I am being unfairly biased in this way; for example, the Roberta Flack album I picked up to listen to and review came on the heels of me having an Ella Fitzgerald month. I got so sick in Ella Fitzgerald's month of writing about how she was a performer, as opposed to a musical artist, that when I discovered Roberta Flack was the same way, I just was not in the mood for another month of that!

      Kate Bush, though, seems to be someone whose works fans love and whose fans rise eagerly to her defense. This review has gotten me an intense number of messages and comments. Even those who agree that this is not her best work, are quite emphatic that there are amazing albums of hers that I absolutely must listen to.

      So, if Kate Bush or any of her fans want to send along her entire discography on CD, I'll listen! Until then, I've moved on for the indefinite future!