BASTARD CHILDREN examines the maligned, rejected black sheep of artists’ discographies. This time, Kate Bush's masterful 1982 album, The Dreaming.
It’s dizzying to think just how many new eras of “weird” music were ushered in by Kate Bush. When she debuted with Wuthering Heights, she was the cultural conversation of the entire country. That song was impossible to ignore or compare, regardless of whether you liked it or not. Plus, not only was she strange, she was popular – the first self-composed #1 single by a female artist, no less.
That being said, there came a time where she lost the public favour. You loved her singing about Cathy and Heathcliff, but are you sure you want to know about her anxiety attacks? Or witness her demonic donkey impression? ‘The Dreaming’ may have gone straight to #3 in the album charts, but she had a lot of devoted fans who would buy it as soon as they saw it. Just because they showed up, that didn’t mean they would stay. 1982 was not ready for this, and in many ways, 2019 isn’t either.
The soft textures and accessible eccentricities have mostly gone, leaving an anxious and aggressive sound that evokes the floor being whipped away from underneath. The lack of bass gives the listener no anchor, with seasick melodies spinning untethered and unstable. It makes for very poor background music. Effectively, she had made something to challenge listeners rather than placate them. Try eating dinner with a date while she howls like a widow throwing herself into her partner’s grave. That being said, those willing to sit down, shut up and absorb ‘The Dreaming’ may come away with something to treasure. It’s the work of an artist who has grown bored of herself, forcing her direction somewhere uncomfortable for the sake of creative growth. The rhetorical question of “What on earth were they thinking” can be either a compliment or an insult depending on how you say it. The cockney chatter on ‘There Goes a Tenner’, the Australian black comedy nightmare of the title track, the unnerving hysterical grief on ‘Houdini’ – what on earth was she thinking?
As for the songs themselves, squint through the spiderwebbed display of lunacy and you’ll find that her gift for melody is undiminished. If anything, she has to layer more and more hooks in to give you any hope of sinking beneath its surface. They’re memorable, but hard to memorise, ensuring a steady stream of familiarity and surprise, play after play, year after year. Lyrically, she takes note from likable bank robbers (‘There Goes a Tenner’), Stephen King’s The Shining (‘Get Out Of My House’), as well as her own experience with anxiety attacks (‘Suspended in Gaffa’) and creative frustration (‘Sat In Your Lap’). She’s finding adventure in distress. That’s the core of ‘The Dreaming’. Part of what makes Kate Bush inspirational (and part of what makes Kate Bush Kate Bush) is her open-heartedness. The willingness to accept emotion in all of its colours, and to be vulnerable without shielding herself with façade or bravado. She uses her wounds as a weapon, and she has never been more wounded or weaponised than here.
You could indeed say that this ushered in a new era of “weird”, but the effect was far from immediate. It’s the more modern innovators – Bjork, The Knife, St Vincent and even Outkast – who owe ‘The Dreaming’ such a debt. It was the way forward for a generation of musicians who hadn’t yet arrived. In humour, in fear and in love, Kate Bush found a new and frightening emotional spectrum.
Words by Joe Anthony Hill