The International Writers Magazine

Aerial – Kate Bush:
Making Maths Meaningful
A Clare Sager review

hen an artist of great calibre releases an album, there is always going to be a great to-do, especially from the music press. When that artist has been known as one of the most exciting songwriters of her time (even all time), that fuss can expect to be magnified somewhat. When the artist is that thrilling and hasn’t released an album in 12 years, well, you’d be right to expect what amounts to media hysteria.

Front covers of every music magazine. Interviews on radio, performances on T4 and Top of the Pops, and, of course, the being talked at on the torturous Friday Night With Jonathan Ross.
But before we get carried away, I should point out that this is Kate Bush. Ah yes, the woman of mystery, the recluse who, if we are to believe the press, has had more nervous breakdowns since her last album (1993’s The Red Shoes) than I’ve had cocoa-based confectionary.

In the promotional run-up to the aeon-awaited Aerial, Bush has only given one magazine interview, a handful of radio interviews and has said that she will make some limited television appearances.
But enough of that fame game which Bush refuses to play, and on to this eagerly-awaited double album (which, let’s face it, EMI must be more than relieved to finally have complete and released).

Disc one: A Sea of Honey, opens with the haunting percussion of King of the Mountain, the first single from the album. Her vocals are slurred as if the words are melting together, which is an acquired taste, I’ll admit, but this song is a grower. That makes it an odd choice for a single, but it went into the charts at number 4 – not bad at all for a 47-year-old mother of one!

Next we have the sexy, warm tones of pi. Yes, I did just use the word "sexy" in the context of mathematics, but this is classic Kate Bush; she finds the art, the inspiration in the unexpected; she makes maths meaningful. Who else but Kate Bush could have the idea to sing the first few dozen decimal places of ¼, let alone get away with it? But this song isn’t so much about the finer points of equations, it is about what makes a person who they are, the enthusiasm (sometimes for the strangest things) that makes you love them.

If ¼ was odd, then track four, Mrs Bartolozzi may be too much for your belief in Bush. It is another track drawn from Bush’s ability to see the wonder in the mundane; a housewife’s day has never been so beautiful. Even I must admit, however, that when I heard that one of the tracks has the refrain of "washing machine/washing machine", I did think uh-oh, Kate’s lost it! But, this being Kate Bush, she carries it off with her open-minded approach to the world around her: there is beauty in everything, it’s up to you to find it. Here, we have a little help from this simple vocals and piano track.

Never fear, your faith in Bush may be stretched to its furthest reaches in Mrs Bartolozzi, but the following track brings you back. So far this disc of the album has been mellow, darkly building the tempo and audio seduction, but in How to be Invisible Kate gives us a track of evocative rock sensibilities. The lyrics seem to take influence from many places, including perhaps, a short story by Ian McEwan, Solid Geometry, in which a scientist discovers a way of making matter less than solid: "… fold yourself up/You cut along the dotted line/You think inside out/And you’re invisible". From the mystery-lady, we get this mysterious track – the stand-out song of this disc.

Disc two
: A Sky of Honey, comprises nine songs that segue into one another to tell us the story of a day, with birdsong as a reoccurring motif. Here we find the return of Rolf Harris singing and playing didgeridoo (the inimitable antipodean also appeared with Bush on 1982’s The Dreaming)– an apt appearance considering this disc’s concern with art (in all its forms) and the artistic process. Throughout, A Sky of Honey evokes the sensuality of life and especially art, particularly in An Architect’s Dream: "The flick of a wrist/Twisting down to the hips/So the lovers begin, with a kiss/In a tryst". Another theme that reoccurs is that of time. These are fitting ideas for an artist whose work is crafted so carefully over increasingly long periods of time. We witness the creation of art, the crafting of a day, the bounty of its experiences and, through this, a hint of Bush’s way of working and creative genius.

The importance of experience is expressed perfectly in Somewhere in Between, about dusk and those special, still moments in life that are between two defined instants. Bush even admits that these moments are indefinable – there aren’t words for what they bring us: "Oh how we have longed for something that would/Make us feel so…" and as she trails off into ellipses she invites us to discover and savour the feeling for ourselves. The following track, Nocturn, continues this trail of experience with a wondrous highlight to the album. It focuses on skinny dipping in the stillness of night with no one around. "We tire of the city/We tire of it all/We long for just that something more" – any 21st century listener can relate to that longing for something meaningful. We tire of albums-by-numbers so prevalent, we want meaningful, honest music that isn’t by cynical suits. This album is our escape from that.

Aerial gives us a glimpse of a serenity and mystery in this grown up Kate Bush. She is at once otherworldly and an earthy mother now, with a song for her Bertie, photos of him and his drawings in the sleeve artwork. On the back, the credits read "The Sun: Bertie" (and you can’t help but think it would be cool to have Kate Bush as your mum). This album means something, musically, emotionally and spiritually. It is real music.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to write a song about the first 50 prime numbers.

© Clare Sager November 15th 2005

Clare is a second year Creative Writing major at the University of Portsmouth

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