Kate Bush - The Dreaming

Kate Bush
The Dreaming

Released 1982 on EMI
Reviewed by Lord Lucan, 15/04/2005ce

'This house is full of m-m-my mess'

Kate Bush may not be the first artist to leap to mind when thinking in terms of the Unsung. As a unique and pioneering solo female talent Bush has become well-established as a widely valued eccentric in mainstream, popular music. However, of all her albums ‘The Dreaming’ is the least loved by critics and public alike; generally written off in overviews of her work as an impenetrable mess of experimentation and self-indulgence. This received wisdom needs debunking. ‘The Dreaming’ is an important work which spans the divide between her earlier piano and vocal dominated albums and the denser, electronic and ethnic eclecticism of the albums which would follow. Unlike the unity of each of the vinyl sides of the following ‘Hounds Of Love’ album, this album is made up of individual tales confined to their own tracks. ‘Pull Out the Pin’ sounds like a massively condensed precursor to ‘The Ninth Wave’ which would expand to fill the second side of ‘The Hounds Of Love’; ‘There Goes A Tenner’ tells the tale of a botched bank heist, which in lesser hands would have filled 20 minutes of a concept album. This is a ten-sided album with hardly a breath between each side.

'This house is full of m-m-mistakes'

Yes, this album has contributions from Rolf Harris and Percy Edwards. So what? They’re perfect in this context. Why have so many people got hung up on the fact these people appear on the record? Perhaps music journalists over-awed by the sheer ambition of the album could do little but gawp and laugh at that which they could not assimilate. But Kate knows she’s not going to produce anything of artistic value without taking risks, which includes risking ridicule, and she certainly does that on this album. Often songs teeter on the verge of collapsing under the weight of the experimentation she explores, but to my ears she succeeds in mixing a palette which is unique (and notably became massively influential subsequently), and applies it with great concentration and density, but magically just avoids over-crowding and overloading the songs impasto.

'This house is full of m-m-madness'

Kate has often been quoted calling this recording her ‘mad album’, generally as some kind of journalistic justification for writing it off as a weird aberration. Why? Art embraces the insane all the time to push the limits of the audience. Without this dimension art would become just more bland pedestrian balm, and there’s always been more than enough of that around, indeed at times there is so much of it (such as in 1982 when this album was released) that it’s enough to drive anyone who thinks vaguely radically to the edge of insanity in order to make people simply feel SOMEthing. John Balance of Coil, no stranger to madness himself, once said: “I've got notebooks, this was about the time of The Dreaming, I'd write ideas for songs down and then when I heard The Dreaming they'd all be on the album. I think that possibly some kind of parallel psychic space is being carved up there.”* Or as Kate puts it in the backwards masked part at the end of ‘Leave It Open’: “We let the weirdness in.”

On this album Kate’s voices are more manifold than ever before or since. Perhaps this is one of the reasons people find this album hard to penetrate. ‘The Dreaming’ includes most of Kate’s best acting on record. Within each song Kate uses several multi-layered vocal techniques (the voice truly as instrument), sometimes heavily electronically treated, to express different emotional or narrative perspectives, which permit little access to who Kate Bush actually is and create a moment-form effect that’s positively schizophrenic: ‘That girl in the mirror / Between you and me / She don’t stand a chance of / Getting anywhere at all.’

'This house is full of, full of, full of, full of fight'

‘The Dreaming’ is the sound of Kate striking out. Fighting for her own artistic integrity in a sea of pop banalities. The opening track ‘Sat In Your Lap’ steps into the ring with flailing rhythm section punches, establishing Kate’s intention with its Faustian pact lyricism, and uncompromisingly strange instrumentation. She is greedy to push boundaries and gain enlightenment and knowledge by stepping over a threshold of normality into an unfamiliar landscape. Kate uses Fairlight sampling, sound effects galore, spoken voices, traditional and ethnic musics, backwards masking, unusual time-signatures and changes, and all manner of unlikely instrumentation. The more conventional instrumentation is often processed massively. Just when the listener thinks they are in more familiar Bush territory they can be left hanging in mid air (the choirboy sections of ‘All The Love’, the chamber orchestrated bridge in ‘Houdini’) or suddenly swept up by an Irish jig (Night Of The Swallow). If there is one over-riding lyrical impression it is of entrapment, incarceration, restriction and the accompanying yearning to escape and taste independence and freedom. The album cover and its allusion to the song ‘Houdini’ make this explicit. This is the source of the fight and passion in the album, culminating in the final song ‘Get Out Of My House’ which has to be one of the most passionate and intense songs in Bush’s catalogue. This is the sonic approximation of a furious psychic battle, with allusions to sorcery and exorcism. It sounds like she is destroying her voice as she sings most of the lyrics with a barking and spitting delivery, and repeatedly screams the title, then she leads a chorus of braying donkey impersonations by way of a closing gesture. This album may make some listeners laugh as they take its ambition as a gall to their sensibilities, but all great art polarises opinion anyway. And Kate Bush really meant it. Really.


* Coil interview with David Keenan, The Wire Sept 98

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