A deeper understanding: Kate Bush old and yet new

Kate Bush has sent her legions of fans into delirious ecstasy with the promise of the forthcoming new / old album, in which she’ll be re-visiting some of the songs from her back-catalogue.

The new version of ‘Deeper Understanding,’ which was released for digital purchase on April 5th, reveals this revisiting process in action.

The prominent addition is the new vocoder trickery, which personifies the computer and really brings alive the sense of the computer as a sentient entity, seducing the lonely user (starting at 37’’ in the video). There’s a different percussion feel as well, as shuffling drums gently urge the music onwards.

There’s still the delightful little electronic chirping as she presses ‘execute,’ and there’s now an extended coda featuring more of the upright double-bass playing which characterised much of the original album, plus some chuntering from a waspish harmonica; it feels like an extemporised jazz session – I’ve always wondered what her music might be like if she sashayed into jazz, and this gives a brief and tantalising glimpse of what might result: spacious, groovy, understated.

Overall, it works: there’s enough of the old version to remind listeners of the original incarnation, yet enough re-invention and additional material to make re-visiting the piece worthwhile.  As usual with Kate Bush, she does the unexpected: reviews her previous material and presents it re-invented from a twenty-first century perspective, rather than simply churning out the stock ‘Greatest Hits Of…’ fodder that fans don’t want because they already have the albums, and newcomers aren’t sure about because it’s a compilation and therefore perhaps untrustworthy: if I like it, when I buy the individual albums, I’ll get the same songs again. Not like this, you won’t…

I’m looking forward to the rest of the album…

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Ghost written: Kate Bush’s perfect pop

A lone clock, ticking away the endless hours. A sense of absence, of something missing, of time passing yet never moving forward. Time and timelessness colliding, pulling ineffectually at one another.

All these are perfectly captured in Kate Bush’s ‘Watching You Without Me,’  from 1985’s perfect Hounds of Love, which never puts a foot wrong.

The piece is a study in white. Stravinsky talked about writing ‘white music’ in the strings-only ballet-score for Apollon Musagete or the Mass;

In ‘Watching You Without Me,’ Kate Bush achieves a similar effect in pop; it’s a song in monochrome, the washed-out grey and white colours a perfect palette for the song’s narrative. The endless hours are marked in the ticking rim-shot of the snare-drum; the simple ostinato moving  across open fifths Bb-F / C-G, fleeting comments from the upright bass, and the occasional surge and fade of accompanying strings.

The sense of absence in the lyrics is created in the music by the lack of major or minor thirds in the harmonies. There are only two chords in the whole piece, which cycles endlessly between open fifths on Bb and C; the major third, when it does appear, is only fleetingly given in the sung melody – the lack of either third in the harmony creates a sparse, skeletal feel; this sits neatly with the singer’s sense of being ‘not here.’ Her ghostliness is an insubstantial as the harmonies.

The lone cries of the seagull towards the end, the fractured spoken passages, all reinforce the idea of loneliness, of the inability to communicate, of being apart.

Steve Reich writes music that uses one chord (Four Organs); Kate Bush writes a piece that only moves between two; in both pieces, you’re not really aware of the duration of the piece at all.  Minimalism finds itself a home in more than just the classical genre. Reich, Kate Bush: both fantastic composers.

Alicia Keys, Kate Bush and the poetry of domestic appliances

It must be difficult to be poetic and musical about domestic appliances. She Who Can Do No Wrong (for me, at least), Kate Bush, endeavours to rhapsodise about a washing-machine in ‘Mrs. Bartolozzi’ on the otherwise perfect Aerial (no pun intended…perhaps…); the sheer perfection of the unifying trajectory governing side two of Hounds of Love remains untouched in the field of pop music. (I’m still pondering ‘Mrs. Bartolozzi;’ I’ll let you know how it eventually resolves.)

However, the most completely half-assed singing about a kitchen appliance, and the award for Most Brainless Kitchen Appliance-Related Rhyme in Pop, must surely go to Alicia Keys, for her line in ‘Empire State of Mind.’

Picture the scene; Manhattan’s finest piano-playing songstress is pondering the mythical delights of New York City, dwelling on its twin polarities of princedom and poverty, and is moved to contemplate the social contradictions that sit side by side; hookers working the same streets on which preachers are praying; she wants to mention some of the city’s famous landmarks, and duly writes ‘…down from Harlem to the Brooklyn Bridge’ (see 2’20” in the video below.)

So far so good; and then, oh dear, it happens: inspiration perhaps deserts her, or poetic lassitude sets in; what, she thinks, rhymes with ‘bridge ?’ Umm. She reaches for the first, and worst, rhyme which pops into her head. ‘Fridge.’ And then, the fateful thought occurs: ‘That’ll do!’ She looks back at the metre of the verse, and comes up with

”Someone sleeps at night, from a hunger from more than an empty FRI-I-I-IDGE!” (see 2’28”.)

It’s a catastrophe further compounded when no-one – studio producer, best friend, even anyone with any poetic sense At All – points it out to her and says ‘Look, love, Kate Bush struggled to do it: you can’t sing about a domestic appliance like that, it’s just sh*t!’ Alas, no-one mentions it, and it passes into folklore.

Whether the mind-numbing participation of Jay-Z on the studio track was intended as a distraction from this poetic paucity is not clear.

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