The third part of the Kate Bush story begins with her falling from critical and commercial grace, and ends with her establishing herself as one of the most vital female recording artists that Britain has ever produced.
In September 1982, Bush released her fourth album, The Dreaming. She had received mixed reviews before, but the press seemed baffled by this LP. “As much as I’d like to drag her up from the depths of MediOcRity and say she’s found the candyfloss and bubblegum appeal of once sadly boring acts like Dollar, I’m afraid to say she’s missed the boat this time,” said New Musical Express. To describe so highly-wrought a work as The Dreaming as occupying the ‘middle of the road’ perhaps indicated that the reviewer in question was overwhelmed by it. It was admittedly “difficult”: each of her previous albums had included a handful of commercial, radio-friendly cuts that could ease the listener into the more obscure pieces, but this time there was none. Neil Tennant, reviewing for Smash Hits one track from it that EMI did see fit to release as a single, said that “obviously she’s trying to become less accessible.”
Smash Hits was one of the few journals to give the album a good review, scoring it 8 out of 10. They described it as her “stab at a Major Piece Of Work,” and although the write-up was not without criticism (it referred to her “cat-like vocals, varying between sugar and spit, [which] edge perilously close to parody much of the time”) it concluded that “the whole effort is so full-blooded and carefully wrought that she gets away with it. It’s good to see someone go over the top and come back in one piece.” Melody Maker agreed, conceding that while it was “initially bewildering and not a little preposterous”, listeners should “try to hang on through the twisted overkill and histrionic fits [because] there’s much reward.” The reviewer confided that it was “the sort of album that makes me want to kidnap the artist and demand the explanation behind each track” – Bush had already been developing the kind of audience that would hang on every word in her lyrics and every note in her music. Numerous fanzines devoted to Bush were being advertised in the music press, including titles such as Homeground, in which fans would produce detailed essays and artworks inspired by her songs.
But elsewhere, Sounds said The Dreaming was “drowning in a sea of vocal overdubs” and Record Mirror pointed out that “a little outside quality control might not have come amiss” in reference to her decision to produce herself – although they did admit that the production was “hard to fault” and that she was “growing technically,” if “showing few signs of really maturing in her work.” The album entered the Top 10 straight away but it quickly dropped in the chart. A single was needed to boost its chances and There Goes A Tenner – the subject of Neil Tennant’s previously quoted review – was chosen. Tennant said it was “Very weird. Kate sings a fractured tune partly in a cockney accent and – strangest of all – dresses up as one of The Virgin Prunes on the cover.” The promotional clip explained these affectations: the song was about East End robbers involved bank heist, hence the accent and the boiler suit. While Tennant appreciated the “haunting atmosphere that lingers after the record has finished,” it received next to no radio airplay and only just scraped inside the Top 100. It was the first time she hadn’t had a hit with something she had released.
Thereafter, while there were releases in other territories, there were no further singles or albums in the UK for over two-and-a-half years. Suspended In Gaffa, which sold reasonably in continental Europe, was not selected for release as a single in Britain; neither was Night Of The Swallow which was issued in Eire. Import company Conifer tried to release the French single Ne T’En Fui Pas in the UK in August 1983 but EMI blocked it. What they did release, in late ’83, was The Single File, a video cassette featuring the promotional clips made for her British singles to date, together with the one made for Suspended In Gaffa. This was a hit, topping the music video chart the following year, and to compliment it a collectors’ edition box set of reissues of the singles (which included the only British pressing Ne T’En Fui Pas) was released in January 1984. But this retrospective collection, together with the plundering of her back catalogue in territories such as America and Canada, led to rumours that EMI had dropped her. With few media appearances, and her autobiographical book Leaving My Tracks shelved permanently, some sections of the press believed her time in the spotlight was over.
What she was doing during her three-year absence from the singles chart was installing a home recording studio and planning album number five. In the year leading up to its release in the late summer of 1985, Bush disappeared from public view almost entirely. But when she came back, it was with a Top 10 single and an album that received uniformly glowing reviews. Titled Hounds Of Love, the album received 9 out of 10 from Smash Hits: “If you for a moment imaged that Running Up That Hill [the so-called ‘comeback single’] was a fluke, then one listen to this will put you right. Side one’s crammed with songs that are just as good and even side two’s ambitious ‘concept’ piece about a drowning girl (The Ninth Wave) is surprisingly successful.” There was high praise from even the papers who had been her fiercest critics. “Our Kate’s a genius,” said NME; “Kate Bush the genius,” said Sounds off-shoot Kerrang!. The second single, Cloudbusting, promoted with a lavish-looking story-lined video featuring Donald Sutherland, followed its predecessor into the Top 20, as did the album’s title track in early 1986. Bush was now in the most commercially successful phase of her career. In addition to completing her own album, she had also found time to work with Peter Gabriel again, on his record So. When their duet Don’t Give Up was released as a single in the autumn of 1986, it saw her back in the Top 10 once again.
NEW SINGLES on sale from Oct. 20
DURAN DURAN Notorious (EMI DDN45)
Peter GABRIEL with the voice of Kate BUSH Don’t Give Up (Virgin PGS2)
The SMITHS Ask (Rough Trade RT194)