Playing God
Kate Bush - Aerial

there’s really no reason for anyone to complain. After twelve years, Kate could have been sloppy with Aerial and she’d still make her fans happy. The record’s mere appearance is enough for the rabid masses. But this concept album about the secret delights revealed by time isn’t sloppy. Bush raps concretely on motherhood, seclusion, and domesticity on the first disc, A Sea of Honey, and then abstracts into meditation on a day with A Sky of Honey. By the end, the two-disc set gets us up to speed on where she’s been since 1993’s The Red Shoes.

The motivation behind this instance of “Playing God” requires some qualification, because this unique double-disc comeback has its merits on both on musical and nostalgic levels. For this exercise, it will be assumed that Kate intended Aerial to run as a single disc. (By iTunes’s count, the material as is runs at a total of 79:58, begging the question of whether Kate recorded and turned in the material, only to discover to her dismay that CDs don’t actually hold their advertised 80 minutes of material. Or whether she had the double album idea all along.) Given the amount of time she’s spent on Aerial, she wouldn’t dare cut out any of the record as it stands. So we’ll kindly spare her the anguish and do the tough-and-dirty job for her. Material will be re-ordered; some material must be dropped. At the end, we’ll get Aerial not only on one disc, but with a tightened morning-to-evening-to-dawn narrative that runs just over an hour.

Aerial Total Running Time: 1:04:14

01. Prelude (1:27)
This track opens the second disc, A Sky of Honey, with bird calls, soft piano, and the voice of Bush’s son Bertie. Moving this to the beginning helps to merge the two arcs and allows those pretty little bird calls that she develops later on to tie Aerial together.

02. King of the Mountain (4:53)
Lyrically charming, this track is addressed to the specter of Elvis, whom Kate suspects is enjoying his own Kane-esque “Rosebud” in either this world or the next. Not surprisingly, this is an indirect reference to Bush’s own pursuit of seclusion.

03. Pi (6:09)
04. Bertie (4:18)
05. Mrs. Bartolozzi (5:59)
This sequence is perhaps the most iconic of the whole two-disc set. A three-song paean to the mundane, it covers a mathematician’s love for numbers (and possibly Bush’s love for him), a Renaissance-tinged ode to Bush’s son Bertie, and a stark piano-driven piece on the unfolding pleasures of domesticity. “Mrs. Bartolozzi”’s twitterpated exposition of the washing machine may be the most heavily discussed lyrical snippet on Aerial, but there’s such a naked contentedness here that we can forgive her for such lines as “slooshy sloshy slooshy sloshy / Get that dirty shirty clean.” I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I broke up these three songs. In keeping with the concept, I’m allowing these tracks to comprise the “daytime” of Aerial.

06. The Painter’s Link (1:36)
Bush expounds on the observations of two craftsmen, the architect and the painter, in “The Architect’s Dream” (not included here) and “The Painter’s Link.” Although her subjects are men, it’s not a big leap to say that Kate is talking about herself here (and, well, on pretty much all of Aerial). With the painter, it’s easy to speculate that she’s discussing her life’s progression and the effect nature’s inevitable forward march has on her own art. The architect in “The Architect’s Dream” keeps harping on the day’s changing light; in this short pastoral piece, the rain runs the painter’s colors together, but Bush happily determines the result to be a “wonderful sunset.”

07. Somewhere in Between (5:00)
One of the more confectionary tracks on Aerial, “Somewhere in Between” guides the listener into night and bedtime. This is one of those songs that would probably never be found on any other Bush album, too contented and pristine to fit in with Bush’s earlier impassioned works. Again, Bush requests (and is given) a pass for her trite lyrics with the line “Good night, son” answered by Bertie’s “Good night, mum.” For these reasons, it’s one of my favorite cuts.

08. A Coral Room (6:12)
One of the songs closest to Bush’s heart, “A Coral Room” was written about the death of her mother. An epic track that characterizes her mother as a courageous figure, it expresses a set of naked emotions that Kate skipped over on The Red Shoes.

09. Prologue (5:42)
OK, so if we’re being slavish to this daylong concept, moving this afternoon ode after “Somewhere in Between” doesn’t really work out. Still, this piano ballad, pulsating with guitar feedback and birdsong, makes a nice breather after the intensity of “A Coral Room” and slots in nicely with the eighth-note rhythms of...

10. How to Be Invisible (5:32)
The first thing I thought about this song when I heard it was a bad joke to the effect of “Doogie Howser called and he wants his riff back.” This seething mid-tempo track’s staccato figure has a way of sticking in your head that helps keep this part of the often contemplative record flowing. Lyrically, Bush turns again to the theme of seclusion that she mused upon with Elvis on “King of the Mountain.” Once more she playfully tiptoes around her own disappearing act, claiming that invisibility is a witching as simple as “hem of Anorak / Stem of wallflower.”

11. Nocturne (8:34)
Curiously, the album’s closing tracks are its most energetic. This eight minute-plus song begins slowly, but builds up to a furious chorus reminiscent of a cut from Hounds of Love. With all the lush imagery (“The sea’s around our legs / In milky, silky water”) and midnight partying going on, Kate must be finding this symbolic evening a pretty hopeful place. At least, that’s the impression that this joyous tribal chant gives to her fans.

12. Aerial Tal (1:01)
13. Aerial (7:52)
“Aerial Tal” playfully foreshadows the tense strains of the closing track “Aerial” with a light-hearted moment: Kate singing along to birdsong. This little interlude comes well before the final track on the album, but I’m making the dubious decision to abut these thematically-linked tracks right next to each other. I like the idea of slowly introducing “Aerial”’s striking piano riff, as well as giving a breather between the heavy dynamics of “Nocturne” and “Aerial.”

“Aerial” brings the conceptual cycle back to dawn with another surprising rocker. Kate’s choice to end A Sky of Honey with a dawn-themed track points to the endless cycle of life and the renewable day; in fact, if I had to guess I would take this track as not only a celebration of her life, but as a re-dedication to her career. In any case, this track was meant to be the closer of Aerial no matter what form the album takes. Hopefully we won’t have to wait another twelve years for the next chapter.

By: Mike Orme
Published on: 2007-04-19
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