Sunday, September 30, 2007
MUSIC THROUGH THE YEARS, 15
25 years ago: Sept. 1982
The Dreaming was the first Kate Bush album I heard upon its release. A friend had recently -- winter of '82 -- convinced me to listen to her first three albums, albums which showed a clear growth and development from the airy pixie voice of that first album, The Kick Inside (1978, when Kate was 20), remarkable for its clarity, unusual phrasing, and -- in a tour de force like "Wuthering Heights" -- passionate declamation. The second album, Lionheart (1978) was largely more of the same, though featuring some of my favorites among her early songs -- the mysterious "Kashka from Baghdad," the erotic "In the Warm Room," the Shakespearean fantasy "O England, My Lionheart" (hard to believe this was released while The Clash were up-and-coming and The Sex Pistols were still nominally in existence) -- it also has more forgettable songs than the first album. Never Forever (1980) was clearly a leap ahead. Wherever she was headed, Kate would not find there many to compare her with, nor many followers. The closest analogy to what she was doing with the layered, textured sound she began to develop on the third album is to Peter Gabriel whose third solo album was also released in 1980. Certain songs from that album got a lot of airplay in the U.S., not so Kate's album, lamentably. Why we weren't hearing "Babooshka" as regularly as "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" or the latest hits by Blondie or (yes, here she comes) Madonna is just one of those matters that rock historians can try to make sense of -- Zeitgeist, hype, payola, giving the people what they want, etc. -- but it makes of Kate's career something of an esoteric occurrence in the States (whereas in Britain she's tabloid fare).
That's the pre-history, sorta, but none of that can really prepare your ears for The Dreaming. Everything that was nutty and not-to-be-believed in her harmonies and counter-harmonies before is here -- on drugs, as it were. Kate is self-producing the music in her own studio, I believe. And her music has become masterful mannerism -- New Wave Baroque? -- that plays with the listener's attention in ways that hadn't been attempted since the days of The Beatles big studio breakthroughs and the first Pink Floyd album (David Gilmour, who joined that band in 1968, discovered Kate it's said -- one of his more lasting contributions to music I would think). Just listen to the title song. Then keep listening till you get it all. Yes, kids, there was a time when music was movies for your mind. And that's not even the strangest song.
The sheer diversity of the sounds on offer comes from the fact that Kate's voice seems able to do anything she wants it to -- from little pipings that sound like munchkins on speed, to airy, ethereal murmurs that drift angelically in and out, to guttural bellows that are truly disturbing ("Houdini"), to screeching banshee shrieks, to lounge-singer croon, to her version of the rock goddess vocal, which is never simply down and dirty, but has taste, poise, intelligence, and as for "pop diva" stylings, they've never before been tied to such odd syncopation, to musical arrangements that are so brilliantly NOT what you've been hearing on the radio, but on this album she goes into terrain, via vocals, that just doesn't exist anywhere else.
For awhile there I was a little worried about letting the second side play to the end -- like "here be monsters" on those old maps of the world -- because where Kate goes in "Get Out of My House" is both so uniquely her (the use of the male voice in particular) and so idiosyncratically out of this world that I can't quite begin to suss what it's really all about. The song is harrowing, especially when she changes into the mule ("Eee-yore"), but most of the songs here are, each in its own way; even the likeable, even danceable "Suspended in Gaffa" has odd flights (if only the backroom voices demanding they want it all and the little murmurings voices that wouldn't be out of place in an asylum -- "I'm scared of the changes"), and the final delivery of "it all goes slow-mo" feels at the end of its tether. "All the Love," in its sound evocative of a mind not in our world (dead or mad), rivals anything in the Barrett catalog -- and the use of recorded voices of the answering machine (answering machines were new technology in the early '80s) -- is right out of Roger Waters' bag of tricks, and used just as effectively. There's a theme of heists -- "There Goes a Tenner" and the soaring, passionate "Night of the Swallow" -- of something other-worldly via "Houdini" and the sense, sounded in the first song "Sat in Your Lap" that this is all about some kind of quest, in this world, for intimations of another world. But the reach outward -- "Sat" and "The Dreaming" -- and the resolute turn inward -- "All the Love" and "Get Out of My House" -- both seem parts of the same agony. The end of side one "Leave It Open" seems more positive, but doesn't sound it (if only because of the oddly manic voices saying "Now I've started learning how" and the munchkins from hell at the end).
"Idiosyncratic" is a word that comes to mind a lot when describing this record. That root "idios" -- of one's own ... which becomes synonymous with "peculiar," having the meaning of "unique" and also "odd." To be totally unique is to be odd. And this album is as odd as they come. Kate produced some great and worthwhile work on subsequent albums, but this one is the definitive article. Peter Gabriel released Security the same month -- also a step forward in his career, but the album feels dated to me now -- a good album of the early '80s, fine. But The Dreaming, though I associate it with fall 1982 when Scudo came over and insisted we play it at once, doesn't reside in that time, probably because I'm still learning how to listen to it.
Now everybody --
"Bang goes another kanga on the bonnet of the van"