KATE BUSH The Red Shoes (EMI)

I've only listened to this twice so haven't really had enough time to assimilate its artistic significance etc. etc., but I can report that, contrary to my expectations, it's really good: far less mystical than I feared, and riddled with top tunes and thoughtful lyrics. In fact, I think it's the best Kate Bush album since "Never For Ever", and that was thirteen years ago.

Songs like "And So Is Love" and "You're The One" show a rare grasp of the cruelties of life, "Eat The Music" and "Rubberband Girl" are as joyous as you could want, and others such as "Moments Of Pleasure" (dodgy lyric award: "Hey there Teddy/Spinning in the chair at Abbey Road"), "Constellation Of The Heart" and "Top Of The City" are gorgeous too. The usual raftload of stellar guests turn up too, including Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck (not together, unfortunately), Nigel Kennedy, Princeand Lenny Henry, but this is Kate's show, sounding happier, and certainly less introspective and samey, than she has done in a long time.


As I’m such a latecomer to this album (well, given that it took Ms Bush twelve years to make it I don’t feel too bad about waiting another two to listen to it) I’ll spare you the almost obligatory mentions of Pi and laundry, with which you’re by now no doubt more than familiar with in this context, and concentrate instead on the actual sound of “Aerial”.

This double album is subtle, delicate and sumptuous in ways that make Kate’s hardly slapdash earlier work sound crude and hamfisted. (It’s also, perhaps in deliberate opposition to the loudness brinkmanship that seems to have engulfed certain sections of the music industry, cut at a very low level for a modern CD: it sounds great, you just have to crank the volume up a bit to appreciate it.) There’s also a depth and resonance to her singing –listen to the way she enchants the digits of “Pi”, for example - that I don’t recall from previous albums; there’s also a complete absence of that oft-parodied screeching into which her vocals have been known to tumble from time to time!

Musically, “Aerial” hovers in territory somewhere in between side one and side two of “Hounds Of Love”, veering towards the crisp and almost commercial here, bleeding into more conceptual, long-form storytelling there. It’s arguably her most uncategorisable fusion of genres yet: I can hear pop, folk, jazz and classical in there somewhere, yet blended together with such delicious liquidity that I really couldn’t pinpoint the join.

Opener and sole single “King Of The Mountain” might be the most immediately familiar moment, an allusive portrayal of American cultural megalomania that references Elvis and “Citizen Kane”. “Joanni” (as in, “of Arc”, apparently) reminds how Kate has been attempting to humanise technology ever since using a Yamaha CS80 synthesiser on “Never For Ever”. “A Coral Room” is arced in loveliness, and “Sunset” morphs from its initial sensual, jazzy sway to a near-flamenco conclusion. The album’s masterpiece, perhaps not coincidentally one of its more conventional moments, is “Nocturn”, a twinkling, celestial funk.

Perhaps EMI’s bizarre strategy of permitting the music press only a single supervised listen before the album’s release harmed “Aerial”’s prospects in the short term: I can recall reading a few hedge-betting three-out-of-five reviews written by journalists justifiably wary of offering their definitive opinion of this complex, highly anticipated work after only one play. “Aerial” demands far more of the listener than that; give it time, and you’ll appreciate the art, craft, talent and love that’s been poured into this remarkable album.