of all the artists i’ve spent a serious amount of time listening to, i am the most conflicted about kate. she creates her own world, one that bears only a vague resemblance to this one, where every gesture and scrap is steeped in meaning and importance. every life leads somewhere, every event is stricken with energy. people in kate’s world know they have a purpose. on the other hand, is that realistic? when i think about the people i’ve known who were the most rabid kate bush fans, i’m pretty sure that’s not a group i want to be a part of.
when i’m with her, i’m really with her. i can listen to my eight-hour kate playlist over and over again, caught up in her world as much as she is. but like everything, i tend to overdo it and burn out. between one track and the next, she’ll morph from a dedicated and passionate musician to a spoiled, petulant drama queen. and that will signal the end of my kate bush infatuation for another couple of years.
i heard about this record months ago, and i was really curious where kate might be off to this time. artists who have have had wildly successful careers and nothing left to prove are well-positioned to accomplish something interesting. we know they’re in control, they can call all the shots, have every demand met. someone of kate’s stature could spent a hundred grand on a photo shoot for the cover art if she wanted to. if she instead opts for a grainy shot of a gum wrapper taken with an instamatic, you know it’s there for a reason.
my impression is that kate has chosen the low-key route this time. atmospheric and inspired, but restrained, at least by her standards. i consider the dreaming to be her most histrionic record, and this one is on the opposite end of the spectrum. maybe you could go so far as to say that she’s trying for “down to earth.” she’s now a parent, and is reportedly pretty into that role these days. but kate is never going to produce a genuinely “down to earth” record in this lifetime. in her case, it’s “down to earth” ... with crinkly vocal flourishes! “down to earth” ... with odd musical curlicues! and layer upon layer of tracks recorded with instruments that you’ve never heard of, and can’t pronounce! and embarrassingly maudlin spoken interludes!
i’m on my third run through aerial right now, and i can’t say i’m disappointed, but it’s not exactly what i’d hoped for, either. on a positive note, i can feel that she’s utterly in control, and as powerful as ever. she never fully flexes her muscles this time around, but if she wanted to, she could easily be dragging me by the throat into the rarified air previously explored on tracks like “breathing” and “the big sky” and “violin,” which are among my personal favorites. what’s a kate bush song without soaring highs and aching lows? sadly, this record is full of tracks that i would have considered good for catching my breath between the emotional roller coaster rides that i favor, on an imaginary record she didn’t release that i would have liked better.
but still, it’s nice to have her back. a restrained kate bush record is better than most artists sweating out their best material. maybe she feels like she’s too old to record any more of those drama-drenched tracks from her heyday. lord knows my age has embarrassed me out of a lot of my former behavior. and unlike a lot of fans, i’m not particularly put out that it took her twelve years to release this thing. kate records are like rare gems, meant to be savored individually. they’d lose some of their luster if you could find a new one in every box of cracker jacks.
UPDATE, JAN 18. i am now on my eighth listen, and the record has really grown on me. i often find the hair on the back of my neck standing on end when i least expect it. i kind of wish kate had kept her kid out of it, though. she has him speak in a faux-dramatic tone that she often adopts herself. i can sort of forgive her for doing it in her own vocals, because she's making the decision for herself. coaching a little kid to act like that though ... ick.
UPDATE, JAN 23. i have now listened to the record 14 times. the last time, i listened to all kate's previous records first, to put it in perspective. i think my initial disappointment that it isn't more of a drama-rama was that unfortunate thing that happens sometimes, where fans don't like it when their favorite artists change very much. given her age, this is absolutely where kate should be right now. so i surrender, kate once again has me thoroughly in her thrall. it's too early to say for sure, but this might well end up being my favorite of her records.