Tuesday, November 08, 2016

The Kate Bush Story (BBC documentary)

There are certain strains of pop music that I have come to appreciate a lot more than I once did.  The music stands apart as more time passes and nothing that sounds even remotely like it comes along.
These notions are repeatedly highlighted in this short BBC documentary about the career of Kate Bush (there is also a two hour version that I haven't yet seen).  It's hard to imagine something as strange and adventurous as "Wuthering Heights" or "Running Up That Hill" on the radio today.  Even after countless listens to "Wuthering Heights" over the years, the first appearance of the chorus always catches me by surprise.  Her vocal acrobatics and complete lack of melodic repetition during the first verse throws off one's sense of timing.  One expects four lines with convenient rhyming, and a line or two in the bridge to build to the chorus in an obvious way.  "Wuthering Heights" begins as a love/hate letter to an old flame without any clear structure and then boom, the chorus descends as if parachuted in from a completely different song. 

At that point in time, Bush seemed to take her cues from the unpredictability of 70's prog music.  "Running Up that Hill" takes a different approach, anchored by a consistent, predictable rhythm while the verses churn along before sliding gracefully into the chorus. 

This is the first time I had seen clips of Bush's 1979 tour, and I was surprised to see how much of a complete performer she was.  Merging pop with high performance art was particularly visionary stuff for 1979, especially for an artist who had never toured before and had barely even sung on stage outside of her brother's pub band.  And it was yet another reminder that the days of recording artists who can retire from the road to make "challenging" albums for major labels are long gone.

The documentary doesn't reveal anything about Bush that her fans wouldn't already know.  The point is more about featuring celebrity musicians (Elton John, Brett Anderson, Tricky) and their musings on Bush's music.  The most interesting comment for me was from Tricky, who focused on the "breathing my mother in" line from "Breathing" and attributed his entire career to that line.  That one line neatly summarizes how he'd internalized his feelings about his mother (who he never knew) and tried to express them, one suffocating song at a time.  Another interesting comment came from Steve Coogan, who quoted a line that Byron once said of Keats -- "Keats writes about what he imagines, I write about what I lived".  Bush is like Keats in this instance, writing character driven songs because she felt they were more interesting than anything in her life.  However, Bush would go on to write a number of personal songs too.  And then it struck me that PJ Harvey, most notably over the past ten years, is the closest we might get to a second Kate Bush.  Harvey excels at writing personal songs too, and when she gets bored of that, she also writes songs about historial/literary characters with dark political overtones with unconventional musical arrangements.  

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