Ranking all of Kate Bush’s studio albums in order of greatness
There is an air that surrounds the work of Kate Bush which, despite being perfumed with the literary worlds she has leapt between, speckled with the ethereal glow of her unwillingness to conform to pop’s normalities and enlightened by the devotion to her craft, is altogether warm, welcoming and wondrous. It’s an impressive feat; to not only inspire but ingratiate with one’s audience so effortlessly.
The singer has become a legend in her own right and hasn’t had to be as nearly prolific as some of her other counterparts who sit at the top table of British music, despite doubtlessly being afforded the opportunity to do so. Instead, Bush has worked her career how she intended it to be, only creating music that she loves, not giving her life over to the record executives behind the scenes and, by doing so, has kept her artistic intent pure and relatively untouched.
Below, we’re taking a look back at Bush’s ten studio albums and ranking them from worst to best. But, in all honesty, they truly run as ‘least great’ to possibly ‘the greatest album of all time,’ such is the density of her work.
Kate Bush’s journey to stardom began at a very young age. Discovered by Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour when she was only 16-years-old and still finding herself as an artist as well as a woman. Gilmour was working on Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here when he was given a demo tape consisting of 50 songs of a young Kate Bush’s own composition.
“I was intrigued by this strange voice,” Gilmour says in a new interview for the BBC. “I went to her house, met her parents down in Kent. And she played me, gosh, it must have been 40 or 50 songs on tape. And I thought, I should try and do something.
“I think we had the [EMI] record-company people down at Abbey Road in No. 3,” Gilmour adds. “And I said to them, ‘Do you want to hear something I’ve got?’ They said sure, so we found another room and I played them ‘The Man with a Child in his Eyes.’ And they said, ‘Yep, thank you — we’ll have it.’ [Laughs.] It’s absolutely beautiful, isn’t it? That’s her singing at the age of 16, and having written those extraordinary lyrics.”
Those lyrics would set the standard for Bush, one she rarely fell away from. With time her artistic vision was given more control, and the empirical creativity Bush possessed was given space to roam. With a singer as mercurial as Bush there would always be hiccups, but perhaps Bush’s biggest misstep was simply not making more music. We’re taking a look back at all of her studio albums below.
Kate Bush’s album ranked worst to best:
10. Lionheart (1978)
Ask any artist who triumphed with their debut album and they will tell you, the second album is a tough nut to crack. Very rarely do artists match-up to their first record and Bush was another victim of the dreaded second album curse. There’s a good reason for it too.
While many artists will spend years cultivating their music and honing their craft before they are eventually signed and release a debut, when that record has success the turnaround time for a new album is usually incredibly short. It forces some singers and songwriters into an uncomfortable position and sees them rush through. This is what happened on the 1978 effort Lionheart.
Her voice is as captivating as ever, but without the time to write those incredible lyrics, having to turn the record round in just nine months, Bush recalls in 1984, “time pressures prevented me from writing more fresh material”, and the album falls a little flat because of it. Evaluated in the spectrum of pop music and this is certainly one of the decade’s better records.
9. Director’s Cut (2011)
Kate Bush’s first album in years saw the anticipation rise dramatically for 2011’s Director’s Cut. It meant that when the record looked to rework and rearrange songs from her albums The Sensual World and The Red Shoes, there was a little drop of disappointment from her devoted fans.
Having said that, if you’re truly a diehard fan, then these reworkings will likely bring you a tonne of joy. Particular highlights are the reworkings of ‘This Woman’s Work’ and a bouncing rendition of ‘Rubberband Girl’.
While there was naturally a touch of disappointment felt by those expecting a record full of new material, the album still holds up as an enjoyable listen nevertheless and is worthy of revisiting as time apart may well have made the heart grow fonder.
8. The Red Shoes (1993)
1993 effort The Red Shoes is about as ‘usual’ as Kate Bush gets and, for that reason, it has often found itself maligned by her fans. But, for us, any album that contains both ‘Rubberband Girl’ and ‘Eat The Music’ is worthy of its place in the list.
The album is tinged with sadness for the artist who, as well as feeling the album was “trying too hard”, lost her mother during the making of the album. Any devastation like that is more than likely to turn an artist’s head. The album was meant to form the basis of a new live show but it never came to fruition.
The album’s upsetting inception and Bush’s own feelings towards it may well have been why she attempted to rework the Director’s Cut songs. Still, there’s a raw tenderness to the original that means it trumps the refurbished version.
7. Never Forever (1980)
Following Bush’s game-changing Tour of Life, a tour so rigorously theatrical and painstakingly created that it put her off performing live for decades, the artist was given a little more room to breathe. Her work flourished because of it.
The record also saw Bush take over production herself and the results are nothing short of impressive. A point of particular pride for the musician was the adoption of a Fairlight synthesiser. Saying in 1985 of the new-fangled instrument, “As soon as I met the Fairlight, I realised that it was something I really couldn’t do without because it was just so integral to what I wanted to do with my music.” It was a match made in heaven.
Featuring powerhouse numbers like ‘Babooshka’ as well as soulful moments like ‘Blow Away’, and, of course, ‘Breathing, the album is a definitive expression of Bush’s journey from young star to legend.
6. The Dreaming (1982)
This where things start to get tricky and ordering the albums becomes almost non-sensical. The Dreaming, by any other artist’s standards would be breaking the top three without breaking a sweat. But such is the class and depth of Bush’s work it must settle for mid-table.
1982 saw Kate Bush really begin to enact her vision and take creative control in her own hands. The previous records had proved that Bush was more than just a songwriter, she was a bonafide visionary.
The album isn’t as full of pop hits as her previous albums, but this is the moment Bush began to become the legend we all know and love today. Taking control of her own destiny, Bush began to break through an unspoken glass ceiling with this LP, and even aside from the great songs on the LP, it’s a landmark moment in Bush’s career.
5. The Kick Inside (1978)
When the 19-year-old Kate Bush finally got the chance to release her debut album, The Kick Inside back in 1978, there wasn’t a single consumer who knew what was about to hit them. Starring her breakthrough song ‘Wuthering Heights,’ the album was built around Bush’s illustrious lyrical style.
“I was lucky to be able to express myself as much as I did,” said the star, still gasping for more room to breathe. “I would like to learn enough of the technical side of things to be able to produce my own stuff eventually.” She would achieve this goal, and so much more.
Not as complete as some of her other work, The Kick Inside was the kick in the gut the machismo world of music needed.
When you add on to this that ‘Wuthering Heights’ was the first song to hit number one that had been both written and performed by a female artist, it’s hard to see this record as anything but a victory.
4. 50 Words for Snow (2011)
2011 was a fruitful year for Kate Bush. As well as releasing the aforementioned Director’s Cut, she also released the stunning, ethereal and all-round gorgeous record 50 Words For Snow.
The concept album (Gilmour’s influence perhaps?) provided a crystalline image of Bush’s creativity. There’s also a couple of guest spots too as Stephen Fry makes an appearance adding his dulcet voice to the words and Elton John too, who pops up on ‘Snowed In At Wheeler Street’.
The clearest and cleanest image of this album is referenced in its title. If you’ve ever woken up to the encompassing quiet stillness of a snowy mountain top, with all the magic and diamonds that permeate the atmosphere, then this record will remind you of its beauty. Without fail.
3. The Sensual World (1989)
Any album that includes ‘This Woman’s Work’ has to be up there with some of the best of all time. The song’s entrancing power is beautiful, stark and unfiltered. It’s a song which is amply backed on 1989’s The Sensual World.
Nobody can fluctuate between moods and genres like Bush and as happy to provide the painful beauty of the previous song, she was also happy to engage in her literary libido too, with ‘The Sensual World’ offering Bush the chance to become Ulysses’ Molly Bloom, if only for a short while.
The album is one of those records where you can listen to it over and over, and we have, and still find new and interesting pieces to capture your imagination and transport you to a whole new world. Surely that’s the power of music in a nutshell.
2. Aerial (2005)
2005 welcomed Kate Bush back to the fold and she arrived on the music scene with one of her most impressive albums, proving that she was truly a timeless artist. Songs like ‘How To Be Invisible’ and the dual ‘A Sea of Honey’ and ‘A Sky of Honey’ showed that she was still at the very top of her game.
The album also offered some more reflective moments too as she not only shared the love of her son in ‘Bertie’ but also mourned the passing of her late mother on the beautifully delicate ‘A Coral Room’.
Perhaps the most astonishing thing about this record, aside from Bush’s always impressive vocal performances, is that, unlike her counterparts, Bush is able to return to the spotlight without adjusting her style or tone to the era.
While other acts try desperately to remain relevant in a changing world, Kate Bush operates outside of it, on her own time, in her own way.
1. Hounds of Love (1985)
We needn’t really explain the mammoth tracklist on 1985’s Hounds of Love. From the very first moments of ‘Running Up That Hill’, the record’s opener is not just a pop masterpiece but an undulating and intriguing song like none you’ve ever heard before. The title track arrives with a simple power that renders it one of the best pop songs ever written. Drums thunder like they only do in folklore and Bush’s vocal manages to range from the utterly beautiful to the beautifully guttural.
This power continues to permeate every song on the album, including tracks like ‘Cloudbusting’ and ‘Waking The Witch’ are equally as golden, equally dripping with metaphor and mystique, and equally as jaw-droppingly good.
The three-year gap between albums allowed Bush to focus her laser-guided energy into her work with searing accuracy. It allowed her soul to move throughout the album and inhibit every note on it. The album manages to collate a myriad of themes and melodies and load them one by one into consciousness, unravelling with every note, into something that becomes yours entirely as the audience.
She equally develops themes of love, heartbreak, life, and death with equal measure, equal light and dark, and, most notably, equal beauty.