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PROBABLY KATE BUSH has never run over a kangaroo with a van, or blown up a bank, or killed a G.I. in Vietnam. But she can sing about doing these things without sounding ridiculous. Her forte has always been the creation of a separate world with her music, a world in which she determines her own reality. The scenes she creates in songs such as "The Dreaming," the title track of her new album, don't necessarily sound true. Rather, they achieve a fantastic state more chilling than the actual scene could ever be.
"The Dreaming" presents one of Kate Bush's most disturbing worlds. Singing in the harsh Aussie accent of an outback miner, she expresses the victorious hubris of a developer crushing a primitive society like a kangaroo under the wheels of his van.
"Erase the race that claim the place and say we dig for ore." She makes no overt 'statement,' but the primitive-sounding instruments and background follow a sparse, dirge-like rhythm, mourning the destruction of a people. At the same time, the dirge represents the grinding advance of heavy machinery. The background sounds of animals and chanting crowds of people give way to the mechanical advance, leaving only a lone, hopeless voice to utter a regret in an ancient tongue.
The haunting tone of the music is Kate Bush's trademark. But the heavy rhythm in the song would come as a surprise to anybody used to the more conventional style of her earlier hits like "Man With the Child in His Eyes.' The contrast with her old style persists throughout the new album, each song pressing a new experiment in sound or subject matter. For the most part, she experiments with a darker, heavier sound. She seems to want to dispel her soft-rock image, without resorting to an electric guitar. Instead, she alters her singing style and makes frequent forays into non-Western musical styles.
Bush has always produced sophisticated albums; she even sings in German in a song on Lionheart. Her influences always came from Europe, where the bulk of her fans live. The inspiration of the new album, though, often comes from below the equator. "Pull Out the Pin," the song of a Vietcong cadre in combat, borrows from the rhythm of Indonesia. Even the blades of a clipper join in to help keep time in a manner reminiscent of The Clash's Charlie Don't Surf. "Scott Your Lap" has the throbbing, polyrhythmic beat of the last Talking Heads or Peter Gabriel albums. Bush never really had her roots in African rhythm, but she carries it off as if she were a genuine descendant.
WHEREAS THE MUSIC always benefits from Bush's incorporation of new influences, the changes she has made in her singing style don't always add to her appeal. On her early albums, her voice had an eerie, hyper-soprano pitch which was part of her appeal, but might also have prevented her from getting airplay on the stodgy American radio stations. More people have probably heard Pat Benetar's more conventional and far less appealing rendition of "Wuthering Heights," Bush's hit from The Kick Inside. Perhaps this motivated Bush to make some changes in her voice.
On the new album, she restricts her range, sliding up to high frequencies for only short phrases. In addition, she consciously harshens the natural clearness of her tone. The contrast between her higher, older pitch and the new low voice have an interesting effect in songs such as "Keep It Open," where she sounds like several different people. But the harshness becomes irritating in the beginning of "Night of the Swallow" and grating when she reduces her voice to a croak in certain parts of "Houdini."
The experimental changes in her voice succeed better when they pertain to the meaning of the songs. Her accent helps her role as an Aussic in "The Dreaming" or as a Cockney thug blowing up a bank in "There Goes a Tenner." Her frequent use of electronic voice-altering techniques help set the mood of many of the songs. At the end of "Keep it Open" the words are lost and her voice seems to become another instrument. She seems to sing backwards along a wavering Oriental line.
Those who have come to appreciate her old voice will be glad to know that it still floats through in its purest form in the jazzy and introspective "All the Love." She also goes back to her old European melodic style in 'Suspended in Gaffa." The incomprehensible lyrics follow a melody as appealing as "Oh To Be in Love" as they wander about on a waltz tempo. She doesn't really need these flashbacks to maintain her image, though. Despite the superficial changes in rhythm, voice and musical texture, the album has the same surreal spirit as its predecessors. Kate Bush is still alive and well and living in a world only her own music can adequately describe.
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