As I left Rob’s house on Monday night after a frankly exhausting evening of terrifying listening, I felt that I had really let the side down. And Kate! I wished I had saved The Dreaming for a different evening; next to The Drift and Sunn o)))’s Black One, The Dreaming sounded like Steps at their breeziest.
To be honest, I really struggled to find a ‘Halloween’ record. I just don’t like things that sound like that, just as I don’t really like watching horror movies. The scary songs I do own tend to be one offs. Frankie Teardrop, for example, is a damn scary song (so much so that Graham’s steering definitely twitched on the way home when the first scream erupted out of the car stereo), but the rest of Suicide’s debut is relatively stress free listening. So I opted for The Dreaming, primarily for its final song, Get Out Of My House (which was inspired by The Shining) and the blood curdling screeching of the song’s title. But in reality it’s the singer who is terrified; the listener is simply incredulous – yet another vocal twist to add to the already bewildering array of voices on this album. And they’re all by the same singer! It’s a remarkable record, possibly (probably) my favourite ever and it deserved to be played alongside….something else! I will be very interested to see what Nick, Graham and Rob made of it, whether they felt the impact had been lessened because of the sonic company The Dreaming kept on the evening.
I listened to The Dreaming quite a few times prior to the meeting wondering whether it still sounded as good as ever. I shouldn’t have worried. This album just gets better and better with each subsequent play. I must be well over my 100th listen and I’m still finding numerous new sounds, new inflections, new atmospheres. The songs are so complex, yet compelling, detailed, yet instinctive. They’re relatively accessible yet reward repeated listens. It’s an amazing trick to pull off, one that hasn’t happened that often in the history of recorded music to my mind. It’s the sound of an artist in complete control (this was the first of Bush’s self-produced albums), fearless and brim full of confidence, at the top of her game. It’s all the more remarkable to think that Bush was only in her early twenties when she made The Dreaming as it deals with such a breadth of subject matter (the acquisition of knowledge, The war in Vietnam, rape, bank heists, the plight of the Aborigines). And the music is breathtaking. Each song writhing in and out of sections that fit like a glove. So much of the genius of this record lies in the way Kate Bush experiments with her voice. Nick raised Tim Buckley’s Starsailor as THE critics’ voice album of choice but vocally The Dreaming offers so much more than Buckley’s honeyed wailing. Take fourth track Suspended in Gaffa for example. That one song veers through at least six different voices as it wends it way to its conclusion. Playful in the verse which is cut through with rasping yelps, then smooth voiced and intimate in the chorus until she heads off to the very top of her register for the briefest of forays. But my favourite moment of all is when she plummets from her most unhinged wailing to a beautiful, intimate, whispered ‘I don’t know why I am crying’ – all the more startling because it’s gone in a flash not to appear again on the song, or for that matter the entire album. It’s all light years away from Wuthering Heights.
And each song is amazing. There are no favourites, no weaknesses. The best song is the one you’re listening to! But the horns on Sat in Your Lap! And the helicopters and car effects on Pull Out The Pin. The sound of the car hitting the kanga on The Dreaming. The fiddles on Night of The Swallow. The whole of Get Out Of My House. Just incredible.
The muted critical reception the album received in 1982 must have been devastating for Bush. She had made the album she had always wanted to and suddenly she was out of favour with the music press and record buying public alike. Of the singles, Sat in Your Lap sold relatively poorly, The Dreaming didn’t make the top 40 (not all that surprising when you listen to it) and There Goes a Tenner didn’t even chart at all. Of course Bush would take stock, lick her wounds and come back with what was to be (wrongly) her most critically lauded album three years later. The Hounds of Love is a good record with moments of greatness but, in all honesty, it can’t hold a candle to The Dreaming, an album so good that even Alan Partridge didn’t dare to touch it in his Kate Bush medley!
Rob listened: I’m the least Bushed of the DRC regulars. I was 7 when ‘Wuthering Heights’ was all over the radio and TV and, seriously, how could any 7-year old be anything other than freaked out by this:
Subsequently I ignored Kate Bush whilst harbouring a growing, but distant, respect for her integrity as I realised just how carefully and with what determination she had been pursuing her own creative path.
So, this is the first Kate Bush album i’ve ever sat through, and I really liked it. Not scary, but good.
Nick listened: I’d call myself a Kate Bush fan without hesitation, but this was the first time I’ve heard The Dreaming, and essentially I only really know The Hounds Of Love and Aerial, plus a handful of singles. I own, and have dabbled with, The Sensual World and The Kick Inside, often with great gusto and appreciation, but neither of them has really struck. But The Red Shoes and The Dreaming have somehow evaded my time and attention, despite numerous people whose taste I respect dearly rating The Dreaming as Kate’s best, most rewarding, most idiosyncratic record.
One listen, especially on Halloween and in the company of Sunn o))) and The Drift (and our other, as yet unrevealed on this blog, record of the evening), was clearly not enough to unpack the dense, involved tapestry of this record, lashed with a million different voices all emanating from the same larynx, but it was more than enough to reveal that it’s a record worth unpacking. I intend to investigate further in the future.