For those too young to remember, Saturday Night Live was hugely influential in breaking new artists before MTV. I remember learning about Devo, the B-52’s, Fear, and many others from the show. And on one episode that featured Monty Python member Eric Idle as the guest host, a young Kate Bush was the musical guest. She writhed on top of a piano if I recall, sang “The Man With The Child In His Eyes” and I immediately fell in love with her.
There was something precious about her first two albums and a hint of some remarkable talent on album number three, Never Forever. But it wasn’t until the fourth album, The Dreaming, that Kate Bush’s capacities began to be fully realized.
It was here that Bush began to assume more diverse characters in her songs, often utilizing the full range of her voice for dramatic effect. She also began to piece all of the musical elements together as the record’s sole producer. As one would expect from a relative novice in the producer’s chair, there are moments of clutter and questionable arrangements. But for every misstep, there is a sense that Bush set out to make The Dreaming as something more than she, or any other contemporary artist, had made before. For that lofty goal, she must be duly rewarded, but the real reward may be how she was able to go so far towards the avant-garde and recover in better shape commercially than before. There is little on The Dreaming that sounds commercially accessible, and the fact that her record company gave her even more financial resources for her next album seems unfathomable in today’s economic climate.
What’s more is that The Dreaming shows signs of Kate Bush being completely bat-shit crazy. Sure, she was able to maintain a proper English front in the press and fans, but it’s not far fetched to consider her fodder for the loony bin after a few spins of this record. As a matter of fact, there are shots of her donning a straightjacket in the video for “Suspended In Gaffa” (YouTube).
Video storyboards aside, all interviews from this period and beyond show an impossibly coherent and well-spoken person, seemingly leaving all normalcies at the studio door during the recording process. She addresses this on “Leave It Open,” the last song on side one. “I kept it in a cage / Watched it weeping / But made it stay,” she says of her idiosyncrasies, before acknowledging “now I’ve started learning how…I leave it open.”
What exactly is she leaving open in The Dreaming? The door to “weirdness” apparently, judging from the last verse where she all but admits to the listener through backwards masking: “We let the weirdness in.”
It’s true: Kate assumes various personas throughout the album, an amateur robber (“There Goes A Tenner”), a Viet Cong soldier (“Pulling Out The Pin”), Harry Houdini’s wife (“Houdini”), and by the end of the album (“Get Out Of My House”) she’s lost her mind completely to the point where she begins to bray and snort like a fucking donkey.
If her lyrics and the roles she puts her voice through aren’t enough to make the proceedings challenging, the rest of the arrangements will challenge even the most well-versed of listeners.
She cakes all available tracks with worldly instruments, leaving only the spare piano/vocal movements for emotional impacts. They’re infrequent, which means that for the majority of the album you’re wading through Turkish string instruments, didjeridus, and maybe an occasional bullroarer.
It takes a while to get used to all of the continent jumping and ethnic polyrhythms, particularly since The Dreaming sounds far from what would be considered a “world music” album. No, the only sense of why certain instruments were used was if they marginally fit the song’s overall theme and if they sounded majorly fucked up.
By commercial standards, The Dreaming failed. Even in England, which treated her as a national treasure prior to the album’s release, only one single (“Sat In Your Lap”) managed to crack the top twenty. Why her label, after taking such a gamble, agreed to let Kate man the controls again for her next album is quite remarkable.
She repaid them by delivering an album that was slightly less challenging but still far-reaching; Hounds Of Love provided them/her with worldwide success and instantaneous notoriety. It too is an album worth pursuing, but for my money, I like The Dreaming more. It shows a young women, manic with ideas and creativity throwing caution to the wind and delivering an off-her-rocker masterpiece that very few artists have ever had the courage to make before or since.
Video: Kate Bush – “The Dreaming”