This is the second article in a series in which I listen to the entire back catalogue of an artist and give brief reviews of each album. I have previously reviewed Lady Gaga’s discography, which you can read here. If you want to see me review a particular artist, feel free to let me know with a comment below!
I’ve always been familiar with the work of Kate Bush, and one of her albums is one of my favourite ever (more on that later!). However, I’ve never listened to her entire back catalogue – never have I engaged with her very early or very late work. So that’s what I’ll be examining today. Will she have me running up that hill (to make a deal with god?) Will she take me to (wuthering) heights unknown? Let’s see!
The Kick Inside (1978)
When I listened to Kate Bush’s Greatest Hits (which definitely exists, but I can’t seem to find it anywhere?) I was never particularly attracted to her earlier hits, so I was slightly worried that this album would be a slog to get through, but I was pleasantly surprised by the quality songwriting present here! All of the songs were written exclusively by Bush herself and you get a real sense of her musical autonomy throughout the tracklist. The songs often are quirky enough for them to stand out and be memorable without sounding gimmicky. While the rock-influence style is not one I prefer generally, I definitely enjoyed this as a listen and could really appreciate Bush’s impressive artistry for a debut album.
Best Tracks: Moving, The Man With The Child In His Eyes, Wuthering Heights, Feel It
Worst Track: Kite
Would I Listen Again?: Likely
I hate to say it but this album sort of washed over me. The music is stylistically identical to The Kick Inside, but there weren’t many tracks that jumped out of the tracklist and engaged me as much as, say, Wuthering Heights does. It is by no means a bad album, it’s just inferior to The Kick Inside. As an aside, I know comparing alternative female artists to Kate Bush is overdone, but her vocal delivery and musical style on these early albums is so strongly reminiscent of Joanna Newsom – so much so that it’s uncanny. Perhaps instead of listening to this album, you should listen to Have One On Me by Joanna Newsom. It’s really good! I promise!
Best Tracks: Oh England My Lionheart, Hammer Horror
Worst Track: Wow
Would I Listen Again?: Unlikely
Never For Ever (1980)
I must admit I had to listen to this album three times before I really understood what was going on. Each song seems to exist in its own fantasy world, often so conceptual that it is incomprehensible to the listener. And yet, I love some of the songs on this album! Babooshka is truly a masterpiece and I love the beautiful (relative) simplicity of The Infant Kiss. Some may argue that I simply haven’t considered the songs for long enough, and you may well be right. But even three listens in, I was finding it hard to put my finger on Bush’s creative intentions. It isn’t necessarily bad, just inaccessible – maybe one day I’ll understand what’s going on in Violin.
Best Tracks: Babooshka, Egypt, The Infant Kiss, Breathing
Worst Track: Army Dreamers
Would I Listen Again?: Maybe, but probably just to my favourite songs
The Dreaming (1982)
This is the first album of Bush’s where she was handed total creative freedom. One has to commend Bush for her 100% commitment to this strange experimental album. I understand why people aren’t enamoured by this album, but I thoroughly enjoyed it! Her songs continue to get weirder with each release, but I don’t find myself getting confused – I’m totally on board with Bush’s creative vision, wherever she chooses to take me. The standouts for me are the first and last track, Sat In Your Lap and Get Out of My House, which both sound powerful and explosive in totally different ways. This album is a testament to Bush’s musical and emotional range.
Best Tracks: Sat In Your Lap, Night of the Swallow, All The Love, Get Out of My House
Worst Track: The Dreaming
Would I Listen Again?: Yes!
Hounds Of Love (1985)
What can you say about Hounds Of Love that hasn’t already been said? Front-loading the album with the commercial singles and leaving the latter half as a concept album? It sounds like a recipe for disaster, and yet it works so brilliantly. Relistening to it for this article has only reinforced how much I love this album. The Ninth Wave (the name of the second half of the album) sounds almost like an avant-garde opera and is one of Bush’s grandest storytelling endeavours. And, of course, we can’t forget Running Up That Hill: this song is truly the closest approximation to artistic perfection that exists. This is a hill I am willing to die on. Haha. But seriously. I love this album. So much. Go and listen to it if you haven’t, you won’t be disappointed.
Best Tracks: Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God), The Big Sky, Cloudbusting, Under Ice, Jig Of Life
Worst Track: If I had to choose one…. Mother Stands For Comfort
Would I Listen Again?: Yes, every day if I could
The Sensual World (1989)
Hounds of Love may be Bush’s best album, but I think The Sensual World is my personal favourite. A lot of the sonic environments she employs are much more synthetic than before and feel very modern. The album is so coherent both lyrically and musically that it’s hard not to get lost in the intricate web that Bush weaves. It also features my all-time favourite Kate Bush song, This Woman’s Work – it sounds like she has poured the entire spectrum of human emotion into this short piece.
Best Tracks: The Sensual World, Heads We’re Dancing, A Deeper Understanding, This Woman’s Work
Worst Track: Reaching Out
Would I Listen Again?: Yes yes yes!
The Red Shoes (1993)
This album feels very American. There are some tangible reasons why: the music features more glamorous and in-your-face instrumentals; Prince features and produces Why Should I Love You? but truly his presence is noted throughout the album. While still an enjoyable listen, something about the record feels hollow, as if there’s a certain lack of ambition about it. Most of the tracks are in recognisable 4/4 rock beats, with several songs sounding similar. I noticed with earlier Kate Bush that the songs sort of meld together– the same happens here, but the more conventional styles present here make it even easier to tune out from it. By no means bad – just less exciting than the last two brilliant albums were.
Best Tracks: Moments Of Pleasure, The Red Shoes, Top Of The City
Worst Track: Eat The Music
Would I Listen Again?: To my favourite songs, yes; to the whole album, no.
Forgive me for thinking this album would be inaccessible, when all I knew was that she sings the digits of pi and that the last track was 42 minutes long. Truly, this was unexpectedly brilliant! Despite being very sonically diverse and more stripped back than ever before, the music shines and gleams, as if it were sound-tracking the image on the cover art.. Her voice has matured and conveys a new sense of age and wisdom to her music. Truly the best part of Aerial, however, is A Sky of Honey, the 42 minute-long track which takes you on a journey, similar to that of The Ninth Wave on Hounds of Love, but more cinematic and intimate. This album is truly a surprise discovery from Kate Bush that I did not expect to love as much as I do.
Best Tracks: King Of The Mountain, Joanni, A Sky of Honey
Worst Track: Mrs. Bartolozzi
Would I Listen Again?: Perhaps, but it is definitely not for casual listening
50 Words For Snow (2011)
I will preface this by saying that this album is not for everyone and not for every mood. The songs are all longer than six minutes and are often unusually structured. That being said, the music is incredibly evocative of winter and is beautifully composed. The primary use of piano with some light synthesisers and drums adds to the winter-y feel of the music. Bush’s voice feels so delicate and purposeful throughout but doesn’t shy away from emotional moments, like in my personal favourite Snowed In At Wheeler Street. Lyrically, it’s perhaps a little on-the-nose, but I love this little universe Bush creates – it sounds just like walking through a snowy night, hearing your feet crunch on the snow. If not for your regular rotation, many tracks would be excellent study music!
Best Tracks: Snowflake, Lake Tahoe, Snowed In At Wheeler Street, Among Angels
Worst Track: 50 Words For Snow
Would I Listen Again?: Yes.