Knowledge and wisdom have always been equated with age and experience. This commonplace theory of direct proportionality was dismissed with the arrival of an extraordinary musician going by the name of Kate Bush. With her debut album The Kick Inside, 19-year-old Bush changed the charts by bringing a certain literacy that no other artist of her age and time could. In her 1978 album, Bush sang from her heart to speak her mind — a mind that was liberal and educated.
In reality, Bush was younger when she started working on the songs. Writing since the age of 11, Bush became proficient in the craft with two years of ceaseless practice. Her mature work soon reached the door of the Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour through a family friend, impressing the veteran musician beyond words. A guardian figure to Bush, Gilmour financed her better-quality demos and played them to the record executives during Floyd’s Wish You Were Here sessions in the Abbey Road studios. Being swept off their feet by Bush’s one-of-a-kind voice and indisputable talent, the EMI Records signed Bush, paid her an advance of £,3000 and gave her three years to prepare for her grand entry into the world of music.
Usually notorious and overpowering, record labels have a bad reputation for driving artists to the wall and disregarding their opinions. However, EMI didn’t stand a chance against the confident, determined and feisty Bush. Though Bush had to compromise her band to accommodate expert session musicians, it was the first and last negotiation that she was going to make. When the label decided to release ‘James and Cold Gun’, a basic track, as the first single from the album, Bush demanded it to be changed into the more intriguing and artful ‘Wuthering Heights’.
Although the album title evokes a maternal image, placing Bush in the conventional trajectory of womanhood at the surface, a dive into the album would prove how unconventional and radical her approach was. Asymptomatic of traditional femininity, Bush drew a distinction between the contemporary female artists and herself during an interview with Carole King and Co. in 1978: “That sort of stuff is sweet and lyrical, but it doesn’t push it on you, and most male music—not all of it, but the good stuff—really lays it on you. It’s like an interrogation. It really puts you against the wall and that’s what I’d like my music to do. I’d like my music to intrude.” And her music did intrude in the dark and unexplored territories of female sexuality, desire and fantasies.
The image of a benevolent and loving mother is shattered in the title track itself where the natural mother-child relationship is juxtaposed with an unnatural incestuous bond. The song talks about a young woman who is pregnant with her brother’s child and contemplates suicide to escape the shameful reality. Although inspired by the folk song ‘Lucy Wan’ where the brother kills the sister, Bush added a twist by subverting the situation and giving the woman agency.
The intensity of desire and its extent, though a running theme in the album, features more explicitly in songs like ‘L’Amour Looks Something Like You’ and ‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes’. While the former is average in terms of lyrics and musicality, the latter is a standout. The song originally written and recorded during Bush’s early teen years, not only deals with an adult theme but also offers a mature perspective. It reflects the anxiety of the society who cannot fathom the dynamics of a relationship with a much older man. But to Bush, his love is immaterial. She is rather interested in exploring what the woman feels under such conditions. This kind of empowerment of female desire was indeed a rarity back in the time.
Bush flexes her literary knowledge and intellect in ‘Wuthering Heights’ which shows that her confidence in the song was justified. Inspired by Emily Bronte’s novel of the same name, Bush re-imagined the song from Catherine Earnshaw’s angle that culminates in spiritual empowerment. ‘The Saxophone Song’ on the other hand, captures Bush’s unconventional spirit. She fantasises about sitting in a Berlin bar, swoon by the music of a saxophone player. However, the saxophone we hear in the record is coarse and unromantic but true to Bush’s atypical self.
Bush shines in other tracks such as ‘Kite’, ‘Strange Phenomenon’ and ‘Moving’, but loses her touch in ‘Room For The Life’. Though musically it is elegant, witnessing a successful partnership with Steely Dan, the lyrics are self-contradictory. The song title evokes Virginia Woolf’s feminist text ‘A Room Of Once Own’, but diverges from its contemplative essence in moments of unwelcomed cheerfulness.
Most of the songs in the album are driven by the piano which adapts its style beautifully and effortlessly with each song. While the upbeat and wacky reggae arrangement of ‘Kite’ offers a nice, energetic variation. But it is Bush’s unwavering and distinct vocals which bring the songs to life. There are moments where Bush’s nativity is exposed, but her remarkable achievements overshadow those moments.