By the early 80’s everyone must have thought they had Kate Bush pegged – dippy English elfin home-counties chanteuse, pushed initially by EMI as a sex symbol in a leotard, discovered by Dave Gilmour, sang about some stuff, played piano and made funny faces in her videos whilst flapping her arms around wildly. All the more reason then why Kate Bush The Dreaming, must have hit 1982 like an alien invasion. You know, one of those alien invasions from outer space; yup one of them intergalactic ones. Let’s face it, 32 years on and this album put out by a 24 year-old still stands the test of time as a really dense, challenging work.
It is also the key to the often-pondered link between Kate Bush and Ronnie James Dio. Yup, you better believe it bitchez 1537’z got tha mad linkin’ skillz!
Just like the Beatles* when they later said that Rubber Soul was the LP where they lost ‘all the secretaries’ (not at all sexist, lads!) The Dreaming was where Kate Bush took a hard left turn veering away from the mainstream, from daytime TV and from ‘pop’ towards, well, ‘other’ I suppose. Inevitably it remains her worst selling LP, although the first one to make any chart impression in the US and there is a temptation to see it as just a transitional album on the road to The Hounds of Love, a necessary stepping stone to a classic. Personally I don’t think this does justice to a wild, imaginative, fiercely individual, but admittedly slightly flawed LP.
Okay, now we all know what girls sing about, right? good love, bad love, men and fluffy kittens. Not so Ms Bush, if you pay attention without getting suckered by the melodies there were more than a few oddities lurking in her lyrics cabinet – poisoners, nuclear war, oral shenanigans and the ghost of Catherine Earnshaw; she really cranked it up another gear on The Dreaming. We get, amongst other things, the plight of indigenous peoples (The Dreaming), bank robbery (There Goes a Tenner), Houdini’s wife (Houdini), Vietnam (Pull Out The Pin) and, umm, a theoretical conception of people as cups (Leave it Open). No fluffy kittens and that’s just one of the many things I love about Kate Bush**. This album goes off like an unpinned Catherine Wheel, spinning wildly in all directions and showering everywhere with sparks. If sparks are your thing, conceptually and musically, welcome.
Kate^ first introduced the Fairlight synth to her music in her previous LP Never For Ever, but The Dreaming is where it really began to take hold, where she had learned enough to begin to compose on it and a drum machine, where the technology could be properly harnessed in order to expand her musical lexicon. Check out opener, ‘Sat in Your Lap’ which I think serves well as a microcosm of the album (released as a taster single for the album, 13 months before the LP hit the racks – those were the days), a public-bewildering melange of percussive synth brass, pounding drums^* and in common with much of The Dreaming, a virtual one-woman T.S Eliot-style Babel of voices – Kate sings regular, Kate sings high, Kate snarls. It’s quite a thing to experience, to immerse yourself in, to be blind-sided by and then try to work out what it might actually be about (mankind’s compulsive search for knowledge, if I had to bet). Like some poetry, I just don’t think it’s possible to be reductive about this song, the point is the overall effect, living in the swirl. Doubly so for ‘Leave it Open’, trebly so for the quite terrifying ‘Get Out of my House’.
The Dreaming had a troubled genesis, 5 studios, numerous engineers, Kate’s first self-production. In Rob Jovanovic Kate Bush: The Biography (stolen from Mrs 1537’s shelves), engineer Nick Launay fresh from producing PIL’s Flowers of Romance (now there’s a difficult album!) has several entertaining tales of the lengths they went to in order to get certain effects; the Catherine wheel again. Whether all this displacement is responsible for the album’s shifts, twists and kicks is a moot point; whether adopting Ealing Comedy cockney accents, recording in Dublin with members of The Chieftains and Planxty, co-opting Rolf Harris on didgeridoo and using a frankly dubious Australian accent, or oddest of all laying down some seriously psychotic Eeyore’s on the last track, the albums’ disparities and wild fractured energy are what binds it all together. Again, it is an album that defies any measured breakdown and I think sits squarely in line with Brian Eno & David Byrne My Life In The Bush of Ghosts and Peter Gabriel IV more outré solo works (both acknowledged favourites of Kate Bush) as truly progressive albums, literally in the sense of pushing everything forwards.
Pulling out individual tracks is not the point here, but … that’s what I do. ‘Pull Out the Pin’, is a real feat of imagination and execution. Taking the viewpoint of a Vietnamese soldier stalking an American soldier, it’s a comparatively innocuous tune in these surroundings, some squonking, helicopter effects and a jarring, distant refrain of ‘I love life’ aside; you could listen to it a dozen times without realizing what it is actually about, you can even read it as a metaphor for the creative process, she simply has to pull the pin.
Just one thing in it, me or him.
And I love life!
The gentle ‘All The Love’ is probably as conventional as The Dreaming gets, but there is something genuinely affecting about this tale of … well, death, loss and answering machines, maybe, possibly. The backing is at its most minimal here, Bush on piano and Fairlight, Del Palmer on bass^^ and Stuart Elliott on drums. The drop-outs to the choirboy vocals get me every time and prefigures some of her work on the sublime 50 Words For Snow.
Ironically the least impressive track for me is the one that provides the story for the cover of the album, ‘Houdini’; Kate in a fetching houndstooth number prepares to snog a key into the mouth of the eponymous escape artist; an image that rebounds and resounds with more metaphors for masculine/feminine dependency than a reasonable man can handle, all overlaid with a sheen of outright horniness.
With a kiss I’d pass the key
And feel your tongue
Teasing and receiving
With your spit still on my lip,
You hit the water.
This track just doesn’t go anywhere for me, it meanders a little and then Kate adopts a strange cookie monster voice and then it gets a little innocuously classical. It just doesn’t fizz the way the rest of the album does.
The Dio connection? Jimmy Bain plays bass on three tracks here, which I’d never noticed before – Sat in Your Lap, Get Out of my House and Leave it Open. Kate met him through Phil Lynott when Bain was playing with Wild Horses. This is taken from one of those old BaktaBak interview picture discs*^:
‘it was nice to use people, almost specifically, for what they were very good at, and I always think of Jimmy as being a really super rock’n’roll bass player, which isn’t meant to be detrimental, because I think it’s great, actually. Because what those songs needed that he was on was a very simple, very driving bass that was going to keep the whole thing going, without being distracting, or too full. And Jimmy was just right for that, really. So he worked on the three tracks that I would definitely say are the rockiest, the most up-tempo, perhaps the most aggressive.’
There you have it, umm, one of the last summupable LPs I’ve ever thought about writing about. I normally bang these mothers out one per night, The Dreaming has taken me three nights and a chunk of time yesterday, when I should really have been thinking about work, to produce. It’s been great and a little intense living in these grooves all week, this is such a grand, innovative album – lose a couple of the comedy accents and it would be even better for me, but that’s not the point is it? this is an LP to experience as a great big, wondrous, gnarly whole – ‘All The Love’:
But I know I have shown
That I stand at the gates alone
*can’t remember which one, Groucho? Zeppo? Ringo?
**although I am very partial to fluffy kittens too.
^having written a blog post and a half about her so far, I feel I have earned the right to use her first name – she’s welcome to call me 15.
^*pinched wholesale by Kate for the track ‘The Hounds of Love’ – listen to the first minute of each track.
^^never given his real dues for being an excellent, lyrical bass player.
*^remember those? They were big at one stage, I own Faster Pussycat, AC/DC and Sisters of Mercy ones.