What can I say but, wow! If I had to reduce my desert island
list to five albums instead of ten, this one would definitely
still be there. Kate Bush has a tremendous amount of talent,
a playful creativity that's matched only by Peter Gabriel's
work, and an exceptional voice to boot. Her songs can stand
on their own, as demonstrated on her first two albums, but
her unique incorporating of different styles and instruments
on her later albums makes her as much of a musical
innovator as the Beach Boys, the Beatles, or Charlie Parker.
For most people, this album is not very accessible at first,
but trust me -- keep listenting and you will realize what
a masterpiece it is.
Kate's first two albums, The Kick Inside and
Lionheart were mostly focused on piano and vocals,
with emphasis on the songs, and little novel in the
way of production. This established her as a singer and a
songwriter, and got her album sales and critical
acclaim. I think these albums really paved the way for
current artists like Tori Amos and Jewel, but Kate
was just getting started.
On her third album, Never For Ever, Kate started
taking a bit more control in the studio, and the sound of
her albums changed. She started to experiment a bit more
on songs like Babooshka and Army Dreamers,
but most of the album was still fairly traditional. Then
came The Dreaming.
On The Dreaming, Kate took over production of all
her songs, and the transformation is startling. There's
still lots of piano and vocals there, but also didjeridu
and bouzouki and uillean pipe and donkey brays and
helicopters. There are rhythms borrowed from several
cultures. There are highly literate lyrics that
alternately illuminate and obscure complex themes.
Basically, there are 10 masterpieces of musical innovation.
Here's my song-by-song review:
Kate starts the album off singing about philosophy and
closes the album braying. Is it any wonder many people
have trouble getting into The Dreaming? :-)
Trust me though, if you give this album a chance it will
weave it's way into your DNA such that you will require
regular doses of it.
- Sat In Your Lap -
Most pop or rock and roll artists wouldn't dream of starting
off an album with a song about epistemology, but here it is. This
song is about how hard it is to obtain knowledge, and how when
you get it, it often isn't as satisfying as you thought it would
Some say that knowledge is something that sat in your lap.
Some say that knowledge is something that you never have.
You achieve some intellectual goal, and you see that it's
just a foothill for a bigger mountain of knowledge behind -
I hold a cup of wisdom,
but there is nothing within.
And this is all laid over a hypnotic techno-tribal rhythm, and
some punchy synth-horns. The rhythm seems to be a fast 12 with
the accents on beats 2, 5, 7, 9, and 11. In other words,
I've been doing it for years.
My goal is moving near.
It says, "Look! I'm over here.",
Then it up and disappears.
one TWO three four FIVE six ONE two THREE four FIVE six
one TWO three four FIVE six ONE two THREE four FIVE six
(I've used one-six twice here instead of one-12 to avoid the
issue of multiple syllables). Except that the syncopation is
accented by dropping the 3 beat, so it's really:
one TWO - four FIVE six ONE two THREE four FIVE six
one TWO - four FIVE six ONE two THREE four FIVE six
This is is a song with a message, and the message is "Beware!
This is not the old Kate yer hearing on this album, so watch out."
- There Goes A Tenner -
This is the first of the story songs on the album. It's about
a botched robbery attempt where the burglers used too much
explosives. The story is told from the point of view of
one of the robbers who was knocked unconscious by the explosion
and is now presumably in police custody.
You blow the safe up.
Then all I know is I wake up,
Covered in rubble. One of the rabble
The government will never find the money.
The title refers to a ten-pound note:
I've been here all day,
A star in strange ways.
Apart from a photograph
They'll get nothing from me,
Not until they let me see my solicitor.
Presumably, she's referring to all the money flying through the
air after the safe blows up (at least that's my opinion -
People on rec.music.gaffa have expressed
Oh, there goes a tenner.
hey look, there's a fiver.
This song is a bit more musically conventional than the opener.
It's got a ska feel, but done mostly with piano, drums, and
bass. For the chorus and bridge (if you could call them that),
the rhythm shifts and a nice bass riff make it a
bit more complex and dreamy.
- Pull Out The Pin -
This is my current favorite song on the album, though that's
constantly changing. The song is about the Vietnam war as
seen through the eyes of a member of the Viet Cong who is
stalking an American soldier. It's based on an Australian
documentary that Kate saw which was shot from the point of
view of the Vietnamese, so the Americans are seen as the
When the protagonist finally comes face to face with his
enemy, he finally sees some of the humanity in him -
Who need radar? We use scent.
They stink of the west, stink of sweat.
Stink of cologne and baccy, and all their Yankee hash
Of course, he realizes that there are only two possible
I had not seen his face,
'til I'm only feet away
Unbeknown to my prey.
I look in American eyes.
I see little life,
See little wife.
He's striking violence up in me.
One obscure reference that comes from the song is ...With
my silver Buddah, and my silver bullet, .... Here, Kate
is referring to a small silver Buddah that the Vietnamese
would wear on a chain around their neck. When they went into
action, they'd put it in their mouth so that if they died,
they'd have Buddah on their lips.
Just one thing in it:
me or him.
And I love life,
so I pull out the pin.
The lyrics are very pointed in a couple of senses. First
there's the good-guy/bad-guy issue. Most of the media
that we see here in the U.S. is generated in the U.S., so
it's biased to always see us as the good guys. If you
were someone living in North Vietnam at the time of the
war, there was a goodly chance that you saw the Americans
as the bad guys. They were just defenfing their homeland;
we came from thousands of miles away to fight them.
Beyond that, there's the issue that both of the soldiers
are humans, but war allows them to view each other (and
to a lesser extent themselves) as less than human, and
to devalue their lives. While the governments of their
respective countries may each be right or wrong in some
sense, to the individual soldiers, it's just kill or be
killed, and they have to make the enemy seem less than
human to justify that to themselves.
The music is the most challenging on the album, both
rhythmically and melodically. Though there are clear
verses and choruses, this is not your standard 1-4-5-1 pop
song. The chief instrumental devices are a wood-block-like
percussion riff with a slapback echo, a heavily portamentoed
bass line, a doctored guitar (or possibly a synth
meant to sound like a guitar), and Kate on piano and vocals.
Additionally, several sound effects are incorporated including
children and a helicopter. The whole feel of the song is
very dark and portentious. I love it, though I admit it
took some listening to before it drew me in.
- Suspended In Gaffa -
The impression I've always had of this song is that it's
about an experience in EST or some other personal fulfillment
type seminar -
Kate has been fairly vague in interviews as to what
the song is about. Apparently, she claims it has to
do with seeing God (or some perfect goal) and then never
being able to achieve it due to your own (or her own, if
you will) imperfections, as the chorus illustrates:
Out in the garden
There's half of a heaven,
And we're only bluffing.
We're not ones for busting through walls,
But they've told us
Unless we can prove
That we're doing it,
We can't have it all.
Kate claims gaffa is slang for gaffer's tape, which
fits okay, but not great (but who else are ya gonna ask
what it means? :-). Of course, the fans at rec.music.gaffa
have provided many alternative explanations for the
meaning of this song.
Suddenly my feet are feet of mud.
It all goes slow-mo.
I don't know why I'm crying.
Am I suspended in Gaffa?
The song is in 12, which is more apparent in the chorus
than the verses, as the lyrical beats in the verse are
on the 4 accented beats. In the chours, the lyric is more
fluid, so you get the feeling that four of the bars of
3 are actually one bar of 12.
- Leave It Open -
This song is about how people learn to shut out new
ideas and people.
With my ego in my gut,
My babbling mouth would wash it up.
(But now I've started learning how,)
I keep it shut.
My door was never locked,
Until one day a trigger come cocking.
(But now I've started learning how,)
I keep it shut.
There are three interesting vocal distortions on this song.
The first is a constant phasing of Kate's vocals on the verse.
This is makes it sound more ephemeral and detached. The other
effect is a resampling (or just tape speedup) of the line
But now I've started learning how. The third one is
a double reverse recording (more about that later).
I actually see this song as related to the last song on the
second side, Get Out Of My House. Both songs conjure
up images of someone who has been hurt and is pushing away
the world as a defense mechanism. While the other song seems
to focus on blocking out a particular person, this song seems
to be more about blocking out new ideas.
Kate's view leans toward letting new ideas in, as evidenced
by the final line, We let the weirdness in.
There's actually a controversy over that line. Kate
recorded it forwards, played the tape backwards and learned
the progression of sounds backwards. She then sang it
backwards and recorded it, reversed that, and used that on
the cut. (the same effect was used for all the dwarf's lines
in David Lynch's TV series Twin Peaks). Because this
makes it sound strange, many people thought it must acutally
be some backwards maksed message which they must decode.
- The Dreaming -
This is another song about seeing through the eyes of
someone who's being trod on. Where Pull Out The Pin
was about the Vietnamese, this is about the way "civilized" people
destroy the environment and push out the aborigines in Austrailia.
'Bang!' goes another kanga
On the bonnet of the van.
(See the light ram through the gaps in the land.)
There are two mildly obscure references here. Dangle devils
in a bottle refers to the fact that as with the Indians in
America, the "civilized" people give them alcohol to weaken
them. The bush is the wilderness in Australia.
Erase the race that claim the place
And say we dig for ore.
Dangle devils in a bottle
And push them from the Pull of the Bush.
The instrumentation for this song includes a didjeridu, and
no piano or bass. Though many of the instruments may be
sampled and played on a Fairlight, she seems to be trying
to give a feel of native abo music. I'm not familiar with
the instruments or rhythms of native Australian music, so
I don't really know if this is what she's trying to do
(or how well she's doing it), but it certainly doesn't
sound like western rock & roll. Very interesting and almost
as challenging as Pull Out The Pin
- Night Of the Swallow -
Another story song, this is the favorite Kate song of many
of her devoted fans. The plot here involves a dialog between
two people, both of which are sung by Kate. One person (the
husband?) wants to fly a plane to do some unspecified illegal
act for the adventure
The other person (the wife?) doesn't want him to go, because
she's worried -
With a hired plane, and no names mentioned.
Tonight's the night of the flight.
Before you know,
I'll be over the water like a swallow.
There's no risk.
I'll whisk them up in no moonlight.
And though pigs can fly,
They'll never find me posing as the night,
and I'm home before the morning.
We never really find out what "the act" is (smuggling?
jail break? spying?) or if the person gets to go through
with it. The song ends with the woman pleading, "but you're
not a swallow."
If you go, I'll let the law know,
And they'll head you off when you touch the ground.
Ooh, please, don't go through with this.
I don't like the sound of it.
This is one of the more western sounding songs on the album.
The verses are a new-wave ballad, and the chorus is an Irish reel
(or are reel's Scottish, I don't remember :-), complete with
bodhran, mandolin, and Uillean pipe.
- All The Love -
This song starts a short (two song) calm section of the album.
All the Love is a ballad about not
loving enough, and how people often never express their love
for someone until that person has died.
A bridge introduces the reason for this holding back of love
The first time I died
Was in the arms of good friends of mine.
They kiss me with tears.
They hadn't been near me for years.
Say, why do it now
When I won't be around, I'm going out
The impression here being that people are afraid to love
lest they not be loved in return. Unfortunately, my
naive understanding of the song doesn't explain the meaning
of the last verse.
I needed you
to love me too.
I wait for your move.
If you think you have an explanation that fits, let me
know, `cause I'm clueless.
The next time I dedicate
My life's work to the friends I make,
I give them what they want to hear.
They think I'm up to something weird
And up rears the head of fear in me.
So now when they ring
I get my machine to let them in.
The structure of the chorus and verses of the song is mostly
a straightforward ballad in 4 using normal instruments (a
rarity for this album :-). The one novel musical section is
the bridge, which has the feel of a choirboy singing over
"aaahs". It brings out the melancholy quality of the song
- Houdini -
Houdini was the song that first got me hooked into
this album. It's about Bess and Harry Houdini.
The music has three distinct segments, all of which
are in common time. There are two segments with lyrics,
and they have different musical and lyrical themes. I wouldn't
really call these segments verse and chorus, as there's no
repetition involved, but they are distinct.
One theme is about how Bess repeatedly tried
to contact her husband Harry via seances after his death.
Apparently, they had set up a code so that if one of them
died before the other, they would know if the deceased was
talking thought the medium. The code words were "Rosabel,
I wait at the table,
and hold hand with weeping strangers.
Wait for you to join the group.
The other musical/lyrical segment is concerned with Houdini's
water tank trick, and how Bess would pass him the key, but
how she worried about it. And of course, this also alludes
to Houdini's death, which happened in that particular trick.
Him and I in a room,
to prove you are with us too
He's using code that only you and I know.
This is no trick of his,
this is your magic.
Thus the two segments neatly juxtapose Houdini's death with
his attempts to escape death by contacting Bess. Unfortunately,
the real story doesn't end quite as nicely as the song. Bess
eventually regretfully gave in and believed that Harry would
never contact her.
Through the glass,
I watch you breathe.
Bound and drowned,
and paler than you've ever been.
With your life
the only thing in my mind,
we pull you from the water.
If the album sounds intriguing to you, but the idea of
"challenging" music :-) doesn't sound too promising to you,
listen to this song first. You'll buy the album just for
this one, and you'll probably eventually like the whole album
- Get Out Of My House -
If you take my advice and listen to only Houdini at
first, stop the disk before you get to this one. :-) This
is one of the least accessible songs on the album, and the
lyrics seem like she's trying to scare you off.
In Get Out Of My House, the house is a metaphor for
a woman's mind. She's recently been rejected and now
the person is coming back and she's pushing them away -
No stranger's feet
Will enter me. (Get out of my house!)
I wash the panes, (Get out of my house!)
I clean the stains away. (Get out of my house!)
The lyrical imagery has him chasing her through the house.
She eventually changes into a bird, which he counters with
a cold wind, so she turns into a Mule and brays at him. Kate
says that the song is about running away with things that you
have to deal with, and that eventually you just have to
turn and deal with them.
I am the concierge chez-moi, honey.
Won't letcha in for love, nor money.
My home, my joy.
I'm barred and bolted and I
(Won't let you in).
(Get out of my house!)
Kate's vocal quality on the song is frantic and almost
screaming at times, which is fitting with the theme.
The music on this song is most similar to the opeining
track, Sat In Your Lap. It has a regular structured
drum track that repeats for most of the song (except for
the concierge part), though slightly slower than SIYL.
If you'd like, you can buy the album
Heck, buy two or three copies; I get a kickback. (well, a little one