Kate Bush, eh? can’t beat a bit of safe 80’s pop music.
Yup, Kate Bush did it again with Experiment IV, a brilliantly weird non LP single released in 1986 to trail her The Whole Story greatest hits effort, in sweetly contemptuous defiance of any commercial logic, because behind the doe-eyed soft focus of this sleeve a strange and troubling beastie lurks.
We were working secretly for the military
Our experiment in sound was nearly ready to begin
We only know in theory what we are doing
Music made for pleasure, music made to thrill
It was music we were making here until
They told us all they wanted
Was a sound that could kill someone from a distance
It’s a wonderful supple pulsing track, the only credited musicians are guitar, drums and violin, although there are certainly keys on it, if not bass*. Wearisome buffoon though he is, Nigel Kennedy’s playing on ‘Experiment IV’ is a thing of joy, he swoops, stoops and soars into the mix occasionally, sparingly and adds real touches of emotional depth to the music. Bush’s, mostly, sweet vocals and the measured drama of the piece belie it’s essentially unpleasant tale of scientists developing sonic weapons for the military; subject matter doesn’t get much more commercial than that surely?!
From the painful cries of mothers to
The terrifying scream
We recorded it and put it into our machine…..
It is as Kate as Kate could be, nobody else could, would, or should ever have recorded anything as singular as this. It is also a bit of a hidden masterpiece** given its lack of placement on any of her studio albums. The 12″ version wins out massively over the shorter single version, there’s just more of everything I like about this single on it, unlike an awful lot of 80’s 12″s it doesn’t sound like it has been needlessly stretched out to fill the format. All this and she borrowed the helicopter sound at the end from her friend Dave Gilmour care of ‘The Happiest days of Their Lives’.
I had never seen the video of Kate Bush Experiment IV before today and that’s not surprising, it was banned by the BBC and deemed too violent for tea-time transmission; it’s all a bit Quatermass & The Pit to me. The cameos from Dawn French, Hugh Laurie and Peter Vaughan are good and I find myself yearning for Kate dressed up as an orderly.
I actually bought Experiment IV as a cheap way to get my calloused mitts on Kate’s Christmas song ‘December Will Be Magic Again’, another single only release from 1980. If you don’t know it, you should. I can be a bit of a sucker for Christmas songs^ and this is a real beauty, Kate Bush at her dippiest and most inventive – swooping melodies, all the odd trills and frills. I know it’s only 18 September but a caught a slight Christmas on listening to this recently, which for a man as jaded as I am is no mean feat.
The historian in me bridled at the fact that Experiment IV included a new vocal version of ‘Wuthering Heights’. It’s a bit shite really. The vocal is less nasal and shrill, less energetic and more studied, a bit more ordinary – not a word that should ever come near a song so singularly extraordinary as this. My main problem with it is the mix, the new vocals just seem to have been dropped into the middle of the mix and they sound strangely muted and gated in that mysterious way that things from 1986 often do. I shrug it off as a rare misstep.
Overall, wonderful, a hamsterpiece. Now where’s that orderly? it’s about time I had some tea.
*tired old ears.
**I’m not going to get into the whole ‘masterpiece’ vs. ‘mistresspiece’ debate that was raging in literary criticism when I was at university, if pushed I will simply adopt the gender neutral alternative ‘hamsterpiece’. True story.
^Wat Tyler Where’s Me Fuckin’ Presents? being a particular favourite Christmas single of mine. Hail Satan!