Kate Bush’s “Ariel”: Music review

One of the sparsest of Kate Bush’s albums, closing a 12 year gap between releases, the double album “Aerial” is very carefully constructed, deeply engrossing, and ultimately completely satisfying. Nearly three decades after her first album, it’s understandable that the aggressive snarl and the octave jumping are absent here in favor of a gentler timbre. Yet the rhythm and momentum of her lyrical delivery remains as compelling as always, and there are moments that conjure the experimental edge of former years, such as the delivery of the lines “sweet kisses” on “Bertie” which echo the wavering chorus-pedal voice that we’ve heard before (“There goes a tenner” and “Suspended in Gaffa” on “The Dreaming,” for example).

The eccentricity may be dialed down, but it is still there – who else would recite 100 digits of the number Pi with such allure and then deliver this in a song (called “Pi”) about a man who loves numbers, in particular the infinite number Pi, and how the numbers “run him in a great big circle.” Who else would get away with the lyric “slooshy sloshy slooshy sloshy”?

I can’t help hearing similarities with some of the less frantic Massive Attack songs – in some respects “Pi,” for example, is not a million miles away from Massive Attack’s “Teardrop.” Perhaps it’s the strong electronica flavor underlying many of the tracks, although the two tracks immediately following “Pi” decidedly do not have an electronica flavor: the ode to her son “Bertie” is performed with Renaissance instruments, while piano is the lone accompaniment for Kate’s voice on the “Mrs. Bartolozzi,” a song that makes laundry day into something of a mystery.
One wonders whether “Joanni,” the lyrics of which are accompanied by a picture of Kate, are less about Joan of Arc and more about Kate herself, the strong female presence that prompts the onlookers to ask “Who is that girl? Do I know her face?”

“The day is full of birds / Sounds like they’re saying words” says the child in the prelude to the continuous piece of music that makes up “An Endless Sky of Honey,” the second half of the double album. Cue Kate cooing ”You’re full of beauty” in time with the cooing of pigeons. Like a dawn chorus, the music expands and fills with breath as the “Prologue” leads through “The Architect’s Dream.” The Flamenco “Somewhere in between” marks an interlude between stretches of gentle embracing orchestration in which electronic drum beats keep a continuous ebb and flow.
As we move through “Nocturn” and into “Aerial” the rhythm starts to pump and cycle with the intensity of a Pink Floyd track. In fact, the total effect of the “Endless Sky” reminds me of David Gilmour’s solo album “On an Island” – there’s a similar sense of that wide open sky, of the rising and receding waves.
“Endless Sky” makes you sit quietly and listen in contemplation, marked with moments of wonder such as Kate revisiting the duet with the birds, her wordless chirping in time to the blackbird song followed by her cooing “A sea of honey, a sky of honey” in time with the pigeons.

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