Aerial, by Kate Bush
No one would ever accuse Kate Bush of being a prolific artist. That said, she has always aimed at quality over quantity, and if her artistic production has waned over the course of her career, an album by the artist or even a song, even a song that is already relatively familiar, is something that many people celebrate. And so it is with Aerial, an album that came out a dozen years after he previous album (and was remastered in 2018 with some changes, including a change in male vocals). During the time off the artist did not lose her artistic ambition–this album is a double album at 80 minutes in length–but she did raise her son and take a step back from what was already an increasingly infrequent career as an artist. If Kate Bush still had art she wanted to make, it was clear that she was not at this point in her life ambitious about topping the charts. Does the album stand up compared to her earlier work? Let’s see.
“King Of The Mountain” begins the album with a gorgeous and somewhat austere track that takes a while to kick in with more instrumentation and a sound like being on top of a lonely mountain. “Pi” offers a gentle character study of a gentle but somewhat troubled man before moving into an exploration of the transcendental number itself. “Bertie” offer a gorgeous love song that sounds like it could come from a 16th century madrigal or something equally historical in nature. “Mrs. Bartolozzi” provides another intriguing character study about someone, in this case what seems to be a story about washing machine and swimming. “How To Be Invisible” sounds ghostly and continues an examination of lonely and obscure people, continuing an apparent theme that this album has established so far. “Joanni” offers intriguing production and another story song about a woman who sounds like Joan of Arc dealing with raging medieval battle. “A Coral Room” ends disc one with a spare piano ballad about a mysterious town poetically described and connected to the narrator’s mother and her little brown jug. “Prelude” offers a brief bit of spoken word from a small child set to lovely but spare piano playing. This blends into a “Prologue” that shows the same gentle and spare piano and sweet strings playing behind an optimistic Kate Bush singing in hope. “An Architect’s Dream” offers drums and a subtle bassline and another character study about an artist’s creativity, which is continued by “The Painter’s Link,” which follows the same theme. “Sunset” provides a comparatively lively song about the concern of death and endings, cutting against the dreams of immortality that have filled most of the album. “Aerial Tal” offers a short interlude with a chirping bird. “Somewhere In Between” offers the beauty of going on a high hill, calling back to the album’s opening but with more gentle music and a less harsh and lonely wind and a focus on the beauty that one sees and experiences. “Nocturn” provides a dreamlike song about a dreamlike state of solitude that like much of this album builds up gradually from a very spare beginning. “Aerial” then closes the album with a return to the seashore with nervous and anxious instrumentation behind a song that expresses the narrator’s desire to be on the roof and sees a return of the chirping bird we met earlier.
This album is certainly a concept album with a high degree of internal cohesion. One might almost say that it has almost too much cohesion in the way that the songs blend together and many of them start extremely austerely before picking up as they go along, adding tempo and more instrumentation. There is a sense of purposeful repetition here, not only in that the lyrics of the songs frequently are repeated over and over again, but song titles are repeated here in some fashion, and the album as a whole deals with a certain consistent set of themes. Most of these themes–like the relationship between men and women, between isolation and communication, between memory and life on the one hand and death on the other hand, are themes that have continued throughout Bush’s body of work. There are a lot of beautiful moments on this album, but it is an album that really lacks not only any obvious single, but in a great deal of variety between the songs. If the artist had made one track lasting for more than an hour, she could have hardly made it blend together any better than she does here. Whether or not this album suits the listener depends on whether they like albums that are ambitious in scope but austere and somewhat severe in their execution, with the negative spaces carrying much of the burden of the meaning of the material.