Kate Bush – Aerial: A Sky of Honey – Round 86, Nick’s choice

aerialAfter Tom had unleashed the theme for this meeting I had a few immediate thoughts – The Stone Roses being the primary one – but thought I’d do a bit of research before settling on something. So I asked for comeback album recommendations on Facebook and resurrected an I Love Music thread. Neither produced a single mention of this album, though, which somehow sprang to mind after a couple of days, and stayed there resolutely. In fact, it’s one of the few albums that I’ve listened to repeatedly in the run-up to a record club session. This isn’t surprising; at various points over the last decade I’ve found myself gorging on this fabulous, sensuous record at the expense of the rest of the music in the house.

(NB. Given that Aerial is a 70-minute, double-CD album, I decided to just play disc two. Because it’s amazing.)

Does it qualify as a ‘phoenix’ album? Aerial came 13 years after The Red Shoes, which, whilst hardly a disaster, hadn’t scaled the critical or commercial heights of Bush’s artistic peaks (arguably the apex of which is The Hounds of Love, still, somehow, unaired at record club. Bush followed its faintly unedifying promotional cycle by vanishing, judging by what’s offered forth here, into a decade or more of low-key domestic bliss.

Across the whole of Aerial there are songs about washing machines, raising children, painting in the garden, and skinny-dipping with your other half while your kids are tucked-up in bed. There’s also a song, on the first disc, where she literally sings the digits of pi, as if in response to some kind of music-journalistic quip about being able to make anything sound amazing.

I had the pleasure to review Aerial almost exactly a decade ago, and I raved about it then. I stand by everything I wrote; if anything, the intervening years have only made it grow in my estimation: pretty much nothing else I own sounds quite like this, or does what it does.

What does it do? Aerial is a concept album of sorts, split into two parts – A Sea of Honey and A Sky of Honey – which deal broadly with the vicissitudes of domestic life; a day in the life of a family bathed in light and birdsong, perhaps. The strict definition of the concept isn’t as important as the impression of it; it feels cohesive, like an object of gestalt with narrative flow, even if the ‘plot’ as it were is a little vague and impressionistic.

The second disc, A Sky of Honey, is a thing of wonder, that grows form modest beginnings – a prelude and then a prologue – through a flamenco / folk rumpus and then into an astonishing, visceral twilight reverie that is hinted at during “Somewhere in Between” and explodes into life through “Nocturn” and the album’s incredible closing title track. The final two tracks run into each other, and combine to make a quarter of an hour of the best music I’ve ever heard, an organic, rapturous party, at once intimate and expansive.

Sadly, the spectre of Rolf Harris hangs over Aerial; he plays didgeridoo and narrates a track, much as he did earlier in her career. His presence leaves a faintly bad taste in the mouth these days, but the quality of this record is such that his involvement can be looked over; he is a very minor part of proceedings indeed. Nevertheless, Aerial is one of the very best records I ever had the pleasure to review.

Rob listened: A great choice for the theme. As for the record… more or less ‘yes’ to most of the above, but somehow I still don’t quite get it, at least not 100%. I think Kate Bush is fantastic, but I just don’t get a rush from a lot of her music. She’s an absolute role model to rock stars, doing everything on her own terms, guarding her privacy, focussing on the work and balancing this admirably with family and life in general. I tend to like and appreciate whatever I hear of hers, but there’s something between me and her music that prevents me from diving in.

I hadn’t heard ‘Ariel’ properly before. I liked a lot of it, particularly what I think was the last track which built subtly to the point of being overwhelming . Much of the record however just seemed to drip with dog-whistle signifiers of ‘quality’, akin with records people seem to like because of the way they sound rather than what they do to them. That’s all fine for people who get off on that sort of thing, no problem from me, on you go. I just don’t have those buttons.

Tom listened: I guess I fall somewhere between Rob and Nick in terms of my feelings for Aerial – if Nick is 100% on board and Rob is 75% then I guess my percentage of ‘onboardness’ would hover around the 90% mark.

As I’ve written on these pages, my admiration of Kate Bush runs deep. The Dreaming is one of my favourite albums and I love Kate the person almost as much as the records she has produced – visionary, uncompromising (in the best possible way), slightly unhinged (in the best possible way) and totally and utterly genuine. What’s more, she makes amazing music.

However, when I cast my eyes over her discography, there is only the one disc that I would call completely, classic (although I haven’t yet acquired, or even heard, Never For Ever which is silly considering it is the album that comes immediately before The Dreaming and holds Breathing, Babooshka and Army Dreamers which already makes it half a classic). Up to The Dreaming, Bush was finding her way, incredible tracks sit side by side with the flotsam and jetsam of a young mind throwing everything and the kitchen sink into the mix, playfulness at the expense of consistency. Since The Dreaming (even on, whisper it, The Hounds of Love), Bush has been gradually shaving off those rough edges, polishing the diamond until it gleams so bright that it takes the breath away. And that’s where Aerial’s at – a beautiful piece, especially the second disc (which is by far my favourite of the two), stunningly performed and arranged, exquisitely produced but lacking those splinters that, for me, made her early work so compelling.

I don’t want to be overly harsh on Aerial though, if I want a breathtakingly enjoyable 45 minutes I can’t think of many better ways to do it…although, as Nick has mentioned, the use of Mr Harris’s voice throughout a A Sky Of Honey does detract a little in these post Saville days!


Author: sickmouthy

Used to be fun but now my kid has cancer.

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