Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Music (Album): Aerial by Kate Bush

1977 was a retroactively important year in the music I enjoy.

Growing up, I never listened to popular music. We had seasons tickets to the local orchestra and the Canadian Opera Company every year, with the occasional trip to Detroit to see the Met perform at the Masonic Temple. By the time I headed off to university, I had about 60 operas under my belt. I don't know how many times I'd seen Carmen (it seems like every opera company (except Bayreuth) puts on a production of Carmen every other year).

What popular music I heard growing up (this was during the '70s and early '80s) was (I suppose) mainly the Top 40 stuff that permeates everything. Nothing really interesting going on there.

In 1986 I was in my first year at U of T, living on my own and enjoying Toronto's ecclectic art scene. I spent many evenings at Reg Hartt's Sex and Violence Cartoon Film Festival (classic Warner Bros., MGM, and other cartoons) and hitting the Toronto International Film Festival (where I encountered Zippy the Pinhead on an escalator while running to make the premiere of Comic Book Confidential).

One evening I was feeling board, and noticed an odd movie poster, and decided to watch the film. I enjoyed it enough that I went out to find some Talking Head albums (Stop Making Sense and More Songs About Buildings And Food, if I remember rightly), which (along with David Byrne's appearance on Philip Glass's Songs from Liquid Days) to Laurie Anderson, and then to Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel, Devo, Kate Bush, and so on.

One curiousity I noticed about many of the bands I'd developed a taste for -- specifically, Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel, Devo, and Kate Bush -- is that they all released (or at least recorded) their debut albums in 1977 (Peter Gabriel, of course, had had previous albums with Genesis, but 1977 was his solo debut).

Curiously, each of these four bands also only had two more song albums come out after I discovered them -- at least until recently. Talking Heads had True Stories and Naked before breaking up; Peter Gabriel had So and Us before a 10-year drought that ended with Up (though he had soundtracks & such coming out); Devo broke up after Total Devo and Smooth Noodle Maps, and Kate Bush put out The Sensual World and The Red Shoes before going on a hiatus that only ended this year with Aerial (finally got to it!).

That was a long, rambling way of getting to the subject of this post. Unfortunately, the reason for that is that I don't really have a lot to say about Aerial. I've listened to it a couple of times now, and very little of it is sticking in my head. Aerial is a two CD album (the two halves are called A Sea of Honey and A Sky of Honey), but through the whole length only a couple of songs really caught my attention -- Pi, a song about mathematical obsession (which I can relate to) during which Bush sings the digits of pi (incorrectly, as it turns out); and Aerial Tal, which features Bush mimicing birdsong with her unique voice. Pi, however, wasn't all that memorable melodically, and Aerial Tal is all of 61 seconds long.

Don't get me wrong, the album is very well performed by Bush and her musicians. But the songs are almost all the slow, meandering type that never catch my attention. I had a similar problem with The Red Shoes, but it had songs like Rubberband Girl and The Red Shoes to liven things up from time to time. And it's not just that the snogs aren't quick and lively: Breathing is very langorous but also extremely memorable (both for the melody and the subject -- breathing in the ashes of people vapourized by an atomic blast). Army Dreamers and Infant Kiss also keep my attention in spite of their slow pace.

My favourite Kate Bush songs have always been the lively ones, though, like Sat In Your Lap, The Dreaming, Get Out Of My House, The Big Sky, Hammer Horror, etc, and the musically unusual ones, like Under Ice or Waking the Witch (or Sat in your Lap again, with it's almost purely percussive band and Bush's voice jumping all over the place). Unfortunately, except for Aerial Tal, there's nothing on Aerial that falls into these categories.

All that said, if you like Bush's slower, more sensuous songs, then you should enjoy Aerial. But I'm hoping she works something a little more sprightly into her next album.

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