2005 was the Year of the Comebacks for beloved 1980’s artists, it seemed. Releases from artists like Depeche Mode, New Order, and Echo and the Bunnymen kept thirty-somethings salivating at the thought of reliving their teenage years through these respected artists. However, none of the aforementioned “comeback” CD’s held a sense of allure as the impending double-CD release Aerial from one of the 1980’s most mysterious and influential artists, Kate Bush. Bush thoroughly captivated the imagination of music listeners in the 1980’s with her string of otherworldly masterpieces The Dreaming, the incredible Hounds of Love, and The Sensual World. Blending whimsical and inventive musical arrangements with a palatable sexuality (and performed with a dexterous vocal delivery that influenced so many female vocalists who followed such as Sinead O’Connor and Sarah McLachalan), Bush’s releases were fantasies all their own. However, musical accomplishments aside, what made Aerial such a strange and curious release for fans was the fact that it was Bush’s first release in 12 long years. During those 12 years, Bush retreated into the English countryside, enjoying a quiet life away from the spotlight as a mother. So, when word first circulated that Bush had been in the studio, crafting a double-CD release of all new-material, simultaneous excitement and skepticism abounded. Could she actually recapture the heights of Hounds of Love? Or, would the disc be an embarrassment to her fine back-catalog of ground-breaking releases?
Thankfully, Aerial finds Bush in incredibly fine form, as she paradoxically records music that is both ambitious and creative, while remaining true to her own experience in recent years. The music on Aerial is a vague combination of sleek adult contemporary music (in the best possible way), ambient music, and that unmistakable, indescribable, Kate Bush vibe. Aerial is split into two parts, “A Sea of Honey”, a collection of subtle songs, and “A Sky of Honey”, which features slightly more organic and elongated compositions. Though the length of the material can be overwhelming in one listen (what double disc ISN’T overwhelming in one listen?), the bottom line about the intricately-produced Aerial is that it is a fine, fine CD that is full of the class, poise, creativity, and depth one would expect from Kate Bush.
Listening to Aerial, the CD that Bush fans for years thought would never be made, this CD that somehow presents itself as a worthy addition alongside her legendary 1980’s releases, feels a bit like reading a Virginia Woolf novel. In fact, this reviewer didn’t really quite understand Aerial (but recognized hints of its greatness) until he started reading Woolf’s brilliant novel, Mrs. Dalloway. The parallels inherent in these two women’s works of arts are remarkable: like Mrs. Dalloway, Aerial looks into the normal, everyday life of one woman, and reveals the sense of wonder and vibrancy that life involves. For instance, in Bush’s ode to her son, “Bertie”, she sings “Here comes the sunshine, Here comes that son of mine, Here comes the everything” amidst tender and almost medieval sounding acoustic guitars and strings, capturing eloquently her devotion for her offspring. On Aerial, the daily mundane becomes a source of introspection and fascination: songs are crafted from the simple noises of birds, and in “Prelude” off of “A Sky of Honey” , a child speaks, “The day is full of birds, Sounds like they’re saying words”, and on “Aerial Tal”, the entire song is remarkably constructed with the cries of birds mimicked by Bush (on paper it sounds ridiculous, but in reality the song is delicate and beautiful). Like Mrs. Dalloway, Aerial also takes the daily introspection of a woman and forges ahead imaginatively into a rumination of mortality and eternity. On the remarkable “Mrs. Bartolozzi”, Bush (in her finest vocal performance of Aerial) ruminates about lost love as she watches the clothes of her lover dance and sway in the wind as they hang on a clothes line. On “Somewhere in Between”, another masterful track that features an ethereal full-band production (as opposed to the highly intimate “Mrs. Bartolozzi” which features only Bush’s voice and piano), Bush lies on a bed, residing in that mysterious place between sleep and dreaminess and wakefulness. On “Pi”, a song full of warbling keyboards and other great supporting sounds, Bush recounts a tale of a scientist obsessed with finalizing the digits of the equation of Pi, and as the numbers roll on into eternity, the listener finds Bush in the unlikely yet beautiful position of singing the numbers. “How To Be Invisible” features some of Bush’s most evocative and mysterious lyrics, “You stand in front of a million doors, And each one holds a million more, Corridors that lead to the world, Of the invisible, Corridors that twist and turn, Corridors that blister and burn”, while eerie background vocals and a pulsating beat unnerve the listener. And, like Mrs. Dalloway, Aerial finds Bush reveling in the world of fantasy, lost in her thoughts, wondering whether Elvis Presley is really alive on “King of the Mountain”. On this song, Bush does her best to subtly imitate Presley’s drawl, and comes out annunciating her lyrics a touch like Mark Hollis (of Talk Talk), while presenting compelling lyrics over a loose drum beat and pristine atmospheric arrangements. In its totality, Bush presents in Aerial a dense collection of sounds and lyrical themes that will confound, overwhelm, and inspire the listener, leading them to fascinating dimensions of imagination, not unlike Woolf’s daring novel.
It’s Bush’s attention to detail and fearlessness in her vision to explore unexpected moments of musicality and themes that sets Aerial apart from so many other CD’s. Bush’s tender and wonder-filled way of seeing the world shines through on this release, while her focus as a musical artist grounds her ruminations in beautiful music. Aerial is the sound of a true master picking up their craft, years after “retirement” to share with the world without pretense the majestic gifts bestowed upon her. Out of all of the highly anticipated releases from 1980’s stars in 2005, Aerial stands out as an often brilliant artistic statement that only adds to the allure and mystique of this special artist. Welcome back, Kate.