ate Bush has been changing the world since before I was born. I am now 26 and Kate is comfortably in her 40s; logic, sense and precedence decree that she should no longer be relevant, that her record releases, like those of The Rolling Stones—hell, like those of U2 and REM—should be treated with a muted fanfare by the industry and certain sections of the press and with glum bathos by everyone else as returns steadily diminish and distant peaks are listlessly recreated in Xeroxed monochrome.
But this is Kate Bush.
It has been 27 years since “Wuthering Heights,” since a 19-year-old girl in leggings danced like a white witch on Top Of The Pops. 12 years since The Red Shoes. It is 20 years since I saw her on Wogan, performing “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God),” since Hounds Of Love. Aerial comes in two parts—A Sea Of Honey and A Sky Of Honey. The former is 7 songs over 38 minutes, a paean to domestic bliss, to chores and children and Citizen Kane and Joan of Arc and Elvis. The latter is 9 songs over 42 minutes (with some editing, and I’m talking seconds removed, the two could be combined), a day in the life of light from dawn through afternoon and dusk to the monochrome glaze of moonlight. A double song-cycle about bliss mundane and ecstatic, familial and artistic.
Sonically Aerial is a Kate Bush record in the style of The Dreaming and The Hounds Of Love: luscious, experimental, romantic (of course). The palette may be a touch dated in this post-Timbaland, post-Fennesz age, but it is still beautiful. There are huge expanses of piano—the oceanic, mournful swoon of “Mrs. Bartolozzi”—and strange, post-ambient pop grooves for dancing to alone as if immersed in a pagan ritual (“King Of The Mountain”). There is birdsong, and lots of it; there are guitars, dubby basslines, Latinised rhythms, strange and unidentifiable spirals and planes of sound summoned perhaps from synthesizers. And most of all, of course, there is Kate’s voice, a thousand instruments unto itself, delivering words both sublime and ridiculous.
There will be doubts, because Kate Bush’s genius and muse is a female genius and muse and thus utterly different to what we expect from… Mark Hollis? Michael Jackson? Stevie Wonder? Thom Yorke? (Don’t make me laugh.) Jimi Hendrix? David Bowie? Any man, ever. None of them could get away with enunciating words like “Slooshy sloshy slooshy sloshy / Get that dirty shirt clean”; none of them would even dare. Well, maybe Bowie would. We seem to think genius is a male trait. We’re wrong. The candour and honesty with which Kate delivers the lines “You bring me so much joy / And then you bring me / More joy” on “Bertie,” an unashamedly sentimental song about her love for her son, are a broadside to anyone who’s ever shied away from emotion, from love, from the things that make us human and remarkable and which convinced us we must have come from the clouds such is our potential for beauty.
She duets with birds, invites Rolf Harris once again to play didgeridoo (23 years after he first did on The Dreaming), juxtaposes Michael Kamen’s ethereal, modernist strings with bluesy rock guitars and unhurried disco beats, sings of washing machines, mathematics, sex, the sea and spiritual transcendence. She is still relevant because she doesn’t seek relevance—Kate Bush has always been external to trends, to the fluctuating verisimilitudes of popular culture. She has always operated within a world of her own creation, and that is why she will always be enticing, enlivening, fascinating.
Frankly it’s an honour to be on the same planet as her. Because, even after 12 years of laundry and washing the dishes and making fairy cakes and raising a child, she is still absolutely visionary, a creative talent and empathy untrammelled by conceit or time or self-consciousness; she is a genius. Aerial isn’t perfect, but it is magnificent.